The MPAA’s changing role: Would YOU want the job?

Posted in movies, studios, Variety by Diane on May 29, 2010

Sure it pays well, but you’ve got to get kowtow to studio chiefs and fight piracy everywhere you look. Here’s my weekly Variety cover story on the movie lobbying org. Peter Bart also weighed in on Bob Kerrey’s  prospects as new CEO.

Tagged with: , , ,

Let Us Now Praise: ‘Sex and the Single Girl’

Posted in Let Us Now Praise, movies, Sixties sex comedies by Diane on April 19, 2010

How much do I love “Sex and the Single Girl”? It’s so retro Sixties sex comedy: Light on carnal activity, but heavy on farce. Natalie Wood stars as Helen Brown, a cute but prim psychologist who has authored a book about single women; Tony Curtis is the lascivious magazine writer Bob Weston who wants to get the goods on her.

Already you can probably tell where this is going: The prim woman falls for the wolfish seducer that isn’t really that wolfish when you get right down to it.

Doris Day starred in a number of similar farces in the era, including “Pillow Talk.” Wood, better known for serious dramas leading up to “Sex and the Single Girl,” displays a nice comedic touch in the movie. Just watch her face as she tries to resist the charms of her duplicitous patient.

And let’s face it: She looks quite ravishing. (Walking through the room while I watched it on cable yesterday, my husband asked: How young was she? Answer: 26.)

Tony Curtis is also fine, but familiar to this terrain, as the filmmakers acknowledge with a few winks at “Some Like It Hot” in the dialogue. Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall also have fun with their roles as the bickering marrieds, though I doubt I appreciated their sublime presence when I first saw the movie on TV in the Seventies.

Nor did I understand the cultural significance of Helen Gurley Brown — my tastes ran to Mademoiselle, rather than Cosmo — and the book that provided the basis for the movie. Only yesterday I learned from TCM that Joseph Heller adapted it for the bigscreen. That still boggles my mind — the author of “Catch-22” laboring over an adaptation of a Helen Gurley Brown book.

My point is this: You don’t have to know any of that to enjoy “Sex and the Single Girl.” But if you do, you’ll like it that much better.

What are film libraries worth these days?

Posted in digital media, DVD, movies, VOD by Diane on March 18, 2010

Who really wants MGM, and what are they willing to pay for it? Six years ago, the Sony-led consortium that bought the Lion overpaid for a library that had already been mined exhaustively. Not that many  people were willing to admit it at the time.

Now that the DVD bubble has burst, however, people are taking a closer look at the troubled asset. Drowning in $3.7 billion debt, it is unlikely to draw anywhere near $5 billion it last commanded.

The next round of bids are due tomorrow, with Time Warner apparently still in the hunt. Relativity Media’s hedge fund backer Elliott Associates is apparently out, though it’s not clear to me how interested it was in the buy.

The bigger question is what film libraries are worth these days. The DVD glory days are over, with more people opting to rent rather than buy movies on disc. Video on demand is growing, but still very small.

Will VOD and other movie delivery technologies help make up for DVD declines? The future’s still unclear, the experts admitted at the Film Finance Forum earlier this  month. But they also said that companies overreacted to the DVD decline, slashing valuations of individual film earnings too far.

Which leads me back to my original question: What, then, are film libraries worth?

More on expected MGM bids: Deadline Hollywood, Bloomberg, The Wrap, WSJ


Catching up: Linkage

Posted in awards season, books, box office, indie film, movies, Variety by Diane on March 17, 2010

Been remiss in posting links to various stories that have kept me busy the past few months. In no particular order: Here are two stories I did for ShoWest, one on this summer’s tentpoles and the other on potential sleeper hits. (Attempting to answer, in other words, what this summer’s “Devil Wears Prada” might be.)

I did a story on successful mystery novelists that may finally be emerging from Hollywood development hell. Maybe. One of those profiled: Fellow Lord Jeff Harlan Coben. His book “Tell No One” was finally made into a movie in France and now in the process of being remade by producer Kathleen Kennedy.

Four of the best picture nominees dealt with infidelity of one form or another. So I wrote about it, comparing cinematic cheating to the reaction to Tiger’s marital woes. Also did a report on the Film Finance Forum earlier this month (harder than ever for those without domestic distribution to get financial backing they need to make the film in the first place) and ongoing shakeout in the PR ranks.

What else? The tension between creativity and client control in branded entertainment, that’s what.


‘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.”


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.


Oscar lament: The curse of high expectations

Posted in awards season, chick flick, movies by Diane on January 4, 2010

The worst thing about living so far from L.A.’s big arthouse theaters is that it often takes me a while to catch up with every award season contender. And when I do, some inevitably disappoint.

The last three I’ve seen all fall into that category. The biggest disappointment, which really shouldn’t have been due to the underwhelming early word, was “Nine.” But what can I say: I really WANTED to like it, having bought into the stylish trailer hook, line and sinker. When others pooh-poohed it, I quizzed them on their reaction to “Chicago,” the earlier Rob Marshall musical adaptation, which I found hugely entertaining, but others caviled about. If they were tepid about that, I reasoned, they might also be immune to “Nine’s” charms.

Sadly, everyone else was right: the magic was all too fitful in “Nine.” After a rousing opening set-piece the movie quickly became tedious. So much so that I wanted to stretch out and take a nap during the inert musical numbers and fantasy sequences.

“Crazy Heart” and “The Young Victoria” were both far more entertaining, but didn’t so much scream Oscar movie as possible Oscar vehicles. Both have been mentioned in acting categories, Jeff Bridges as the down and out country singer in the former, and Emily Blunt as the young royal in the latter.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is also very good in “Crazy Heart,” but the story’s a little thin. And “The Young Victoria” is way too goopy — a little more intrigue and less romance would have better served the plot. Blunt’s royal may be spirited but she’s no match for Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth I or Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth II.

Were the filmmakers trying to sugar coat the story for female audiences? I wish they wouldn’t. There’s enough pandering in modern-day romances, most recent example being “It’s Complicated.” (What do women want? Strong writing.)

I still have a few biggies to go, most notably “Avatar” and “The Lovely Bones.” But the good news, I guess, is that I don’t have high expectations for either, given their genres, and the trailers I’ve seen.

I will tell you this: That royal robe unfurled at the start of “The Young Victoria” is to die for. I only wish I could find a photo that does it justice. And that the rest of the movie lived up to its opening splendor.