Let Us Now Praise: Sara Gilbert on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Posted in Let Us Now Praise, TV by Diane on March 29, 2010

Sure, he's tormented, but what about the dying girl?

Yes, I know it’s not cool to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” these days, let alone single it out for praise. But I must salute the writers for the Dying Cancer Girl storyline and Sara Gilbert for her performance as said patient.

Dying Cancer Girl has made her peace with death wants the doctors to grant her Physician Assisted Suicide. As usual, the case is used for character development of a series regular: While Iraq war veteran Teddy is fine with the request, Owen Hunt is not. Turns out he never got over the time he went along with a similar request on the battlefield.

This aspect was all very moving, but it was nowhere near as compelling as the patient’s plight. D.C.G. spoke exactly like my father did near the end of his long struggle with the Big C. He did all that he could to beat it, railing when the doctors at Sloan-Kettering told him there was nothing more they could do for him, but eventually he, too, made his peace with death, and did all he could to prepare us for it.

Owen’s guilty torment seemed a tad overwrought in comparison to Dying Cancer Girl’s concerns. Almost intrusive. Nothing like a Life or Death struggle to put things into perspective.


Blockbuster brags about its windows. But will they help it survive?

Posted in Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix, Redbox, rentals, VOD, Warner by Diane on March 23, 2010

Armed with an updated (presumably) revenue-share agreement with Warner Bros., Blockbuster is squaring off against Netflix and Redbox.

The ailing chain is touting today’s availability of “The Blind Side” at Blockbuster stores, by mail or on demand. Netflix and Redbox, which recently agreed to a 28-day rental window in exchange for improved terms, does not yet have access to the movie, which notched an Oscar win for Sandra Bullock earlier this month.

The question: How much will this new window help the chain, and rental stores in general, compete against popular Netflix and Redbox? Blockbuster is making a big deal out of the fact that it’s the only “multi-channel provider” with access to big movies on street date. But is it really that great a selling point with consumers?

Studios would prefer consumers buy their movies on disc or via download. Barring that, they would prefer consumer rent  movies on demand or at a Blockbuster; the economics are better that way. (Netflix operates on a subscription-based model; Redbox’s bargain pricing is considered a threat to sales, VOD and revenue-sharing rental chains like Blockbuster.)

As for digital: The release carefully notes that existing deals remain in place. The updated deal only applies to DVD and Blu-ray.

So no, bloggers, the studios aren’t really giving Blockbuster scandalously preferential treatment. They’re just agreeing to continue supplying the ailing chain with discs at a time its future looks shaky.

UPDATE: LATimes reports that the new revenue-sharing arrangement improved terms for both parties.

Blockbuster release (via paidContent)

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.

‘Blood mingled with marinara sauce’: Philadelphia mob story

Posted in journalism trends, LAT, media, recession by Diane on February 3, 2010

Don’t get me wrong, I love L.A. A walk or run on the Hermosa sand always reminds me how lucky I am to live here.

But sometimes I miss the East Coast tabloids I knew and loved in my twenties. New York had its broadly populist tabloid papers, but my true fave was the Philadelphia Daily News. As vibrant and lean as the Inky was staid and self-important, the Daily News was gritty, well reported and a heckuva lot more fun.

Even when it was chronicling mob rubouts or other mayhem in the City of Brotherly Love.

My favorite? A front page story about one rubout, complete with stark photo and description of the murder scene, where “the blood mingled with marinara sauce.” Another story mapped previous rubouts around the city in piquant detail. I reveled reading those passages aloud to my more squeamish coworkers.

Back then, rumor had it, Knight Ridder was propping up the Daily News to discourage another daily from taking on its dominant sibling. (The Inky’s last big competitor, the Evening Bulletin, had shuttered earlier in the decade.) The owners cut back on distribution, making it harder for me to snag a copy on my way to work; oh, how I cursed them for that.

Chicken Man Testa and the Main Line Times…

‘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.