cinema

Oscar Picks

Posted by on Mar 7, 2010 | 0 comments

It’s that time of year again, and the show starts in an hour, which is traditionally when I like to dump my over-opinionated Oscar picks on an unsuspecting world.

Best Picture – Avatar. Usually this category is a popularity contest, so Avatar should win handily.  Of the nominees, I think Up and An Education are the best films. Precious was amazing in many ways, but a bit over dramatic at times.  Repetitive thematically, but grounded in some of the best acting this year. Hurt Locker was also incredibly well made, although I thought the theme was a bit derivative of most war films. I would have loved to seen the war adrenaline junkie angle explored more in depth.

Best Actor – Jeff Bridges is due. This a tough call. Colin Firth is amazing, as is Morgan Freeman. Clooney’s turn in Up in the Air is great as well, but it doesn’t stand out IMHO as much as the others. It would be nice to see Jeremy Renner come from behind and take it all.

Best Actress – Sandra Bullock. The Academy loves to give the statuette to America’s Sweetheart. And, not being nominated has been a matter of lackluster roles for Sandy B. It’s surprising she hasn’t jumped into a character role like this in the past. Gabourey Sidibe should be the winner dead to rights. Her performance dusts all others for sheer emotional power and raw intensity. Alas… If she does win, it will be the great single moment of this years awards. And, truth is: when an established actress who is not established as a strong character actress (like Bullock) wins, it usually means they disappear for several years. See: Mira Sorvino, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Director – Katheryn Bigelow will win as she took home the DGA. This category is rather weak this year IMHO.  Pete Docter’s absence for Up is glaring.

Actor Supporting Role – Christoph Waltz will probably win. But, it should be Christopher Plummer for two reasons: he’s a gentleman and he has never been nominated before, which is a crime. A really hard call, since I’d love to see Stanley Tucci take it home as well. All great performances.

Actress Supporting Role –  Mo’Nique will take it home for sure. An amazing and dramatic performance.

Animated Feature – Up. In many ways, the best film of the year. Nearly perfect.

Cinematography – Barry Ackroyd‘s work in The Hurt Locker is mind bending numbing and electric and gritty without losing the narrative. Not an easy task.

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life and death and the movie star

Posted by on Jan 26, 2010 | 1 comment

Much Too Young To Die

Death is a paradox. It’s a primal force so powerful and frightening that we really don’t talk about it very much. It’s too painful.  It’s dark and dour, yet at the same time, it has a way of reminding us – sometimes in brutal and sometimes in amazingly subtle ways – not only of the fragility of life, but of its beauty and simplicity.  It’s a cliche of course, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Death is the mythological door to other worlds, simultaneously beautiful and ugly, fraught with fear and imbued with wonder all at the same time. And, sometimes it can precipitate a profound moment of change.

For me, this transformation occurred in the early 90s when I lost a friend to trajic circumstances and within a few months found myself working side by side with Johnny Depp, who coincidentally, had also lost someone close to him.

On October 31, 1994 at around 1AM Depp’s friend and fellow actor and musician River Pheonix died of a speedball (heroin mixed with cocaine) overdose on the sidewalk outside of the Viper Room, the club that Depp owned until a few years ago. At the time of Pheonix’s death, Depp was on stage at the club, performing with his band. River Pheonix’s last moments alive were inside the club, listening to Depp’s band, and doing drugs in the bathroom. A few months later, in January, a friend and co-worker of mine named Chance Helburn died in his apartment from an overdose of drugs. Also a speedball. Both deaths were a shock to the system. One day you were talking to them on the phone, the next, they were gone.

River was only 23. Chance was only 25. Both were talented and loved with bright futures and lives ahead of them, and their deaths were the opening scene of what was to be one of the most clarifying experiences of my life. I suspect that Depp would say the same thing.

So, it’s with more than a hint of irony that I find the recent reports of Johnny Depp’s death amusing because Depp had long ago moved away from such a path.  It wasn’t his destiny. With luck and work, I’m pretty sure that Johnny Depp is a man who will more than likely die of old age surrounded by family. I can’t be entirely certain of it, but I’d bet the farm on it. Why? Well, because I was there when he was at the crossroads, when he saw his choices laid out before him, and he had begun to change as I was also changing. He’d lost something, a part of his life, a friend, and it shook him to his bones. I went through a similar expereince but fortunately for me, the eyes of the worlds press were not staring, watching and waiting.

Thus, it was in the summer of 1995 that I found myself at the New York City Bellevue Morgue standing next to Johnny Depp as we both got an up close look at the harsh, pungent, unapologetic, unflinching finality of death.

Next: Up Jump the Devil

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space oddity

Posted by on Sep 8, 2009 | 0 comments

Original version of song and video for Bowie’s classic, from the promo film “Love You Til Tuesday“. I love the camera work in it. And, the design is a lot of fun. One of my favs.

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webuzz: ted hope, yoko ono…

Posted by on Sep 1, 2009 | 0 comments

A few links worth sharing….

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the cosmic dance

Posted by on Dec 29, 2008 | 0 comments

Via Ari Wallach… ever wonder what it would look like if a planet killing asteroid hit the Earth? Well, now you can watch a CGI rendering of it, accompanied by Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky. Beautiful, terrifying. Love it.

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Thank you Paul Newman

Posted by on Sep 28, 2008 | 0 comments

One of the last of the greats has passed away.

More than any other actor and producer that I can recall, the movies of Paul Newman shaped my love of cinema. From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Sting, Cool Hand Luke to Judge Roy Bean, The Hustler to Hud, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Slap Shot, and there are a lot more… And, his pasta sauce kicks butt too. Thanks Paul. You’ll be missed but never forgotten.

From Cool Hand Luke:

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beatles break

Posted by on Aug 22, 2008 | 0 comments

you’ve got to hide your love away, from the movie Help!

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two go to the next

Posted by on May 30, 2008 | 0 comments

Having grown up watching the Carol Burnett Show, and the movies of Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman was a household name in my house. Watching Harvey trying not to laugh is one of the greatest laugh inducing things ever:

Also, director Sydney Pollack passed away. He made a lot of films, three of them are IMHO, classics:
Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor, and The Sketches of Frank Gehry.

Here’s a clip from Three Days of the Condor, a film which pretty much predicted the middle east and world situation we are now deep into… If you haven’t seen it, you should.

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the social media unrevolution

Posted by on May 1, 2008 | 1 comment

Or How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Echo

T
he great promise of the internet was that it would level the information playing field by allowing equal access to all information, and facilitate the production of new information. The relationship between the two would, in theory, allow for a more democratic bottom up approach to solution based innovation. In a nutshell: we are stronger as a group, and the internet will allow us to function at a higher level to solve our problems.

Or so we thought.

The onslaught of investment during the dot com boom of the late 1990’s was rooted in the idea that the internet was a new form of television, and that if we apply those creative, financial and production processes directly, it’ll work. It didn’t, for lots of reasons but mostly because there was no monetary infrastructure for online content and web users didn’t want their MTV on the web, they wanted to connect with others via the web. So, the TV web went away and the social web rose up. And, revenue from ads began to pour in.

It’s important to remember that in 2001 everyone was still wondering how and if Amazon and then Google were going to be profitable. Ad revenue finally kicked in. But, unfortunately it was too late for the web TV movement. Sites such as pop.com and pseudo.com died from lack of revenue before web ads had become viable. It took a few years to figure out how to monetize it, figure out what worked and what didn’t, and for essential tech advances to come into play. (Front loading ads on video, bad idea. Clickable hot spots in video and embedding, good idea. Pop ups, bad idea. Banners and text ads, good idea. Ad sense, good. Subscription, bad.)

In the past four years the reintroduction of “social media” and “social networking” (which was the attraction of AOL back in the mid 90’s) applied in tandem with marketing and ad placement has become all the rage. And, the rush was on to create content to take advantage of this newest “revolution”.

Except, none of the best practices of producing video content that we know work in TV to attract an audience have been put into use. Some of this is due to the over reaction to user created content, and the assumption that low budget and thus low production value would translate into revenue. There was an assumption made by many involved in the web 2.0 movement that simply putting content out there would translate into financial gain if they could get the page hits. Not necessarily true it would appear. It’s a gamble given the rather nebulous manner in which most of the content distributors are handling revenue sharing; one person’s money train is another’s dripping faucet. A verifiable form of revenue sharing and accounting still needs to be set up and agreed upon in order for the big money to spend big money.

Among independent web content producer’s there has been a strong push to attract venture capital, with very little traction because of the lack of dealing with the reality that investors – whether in film, TV, or web – don’t merely want a return on their investment but also to see and understand that they are getting something tangible and valuable for their money. They want a simple value for value exchange. They want to see something great too. And, there seems to be a real lack of understanding of that basic rule by many content producers in the web 2.0 world. The governing rule is: just get it online, who cares what it looks like, people will watch. And, it’s not true.

The problem is so acute that Bill Cammack, an Emmy Award winning editor who knows of what he speaks, works in the web 2.0 area and realizes this is an issue, felt it necessary to video tape a how to shoot video 101 class and post it on his site.

I admire Bill’s patience, he does a nice job of laying out the basics, he has provided a real service, and it shines a light on the central issue that the web production community will have to aim higher in quality of production value and creative ideas if we are going to attract the big money and then begin to also nurture those relationships in the long term. I think that Bill understands this as well.

In the next few years the web landscape could change pretty dramatically. Social networking combined with video and mobile technology is going to create the next information movement. How we use it is the question. I agree with Deborah Schultz on this. We need to do more to make social media more viable, more useful, more informative and more entertaining. And, it begins with the community and the work. We need to be more innovative, more interesting and more professional.

At the moment, I’ve also become a bit disenfranchised with the web 2.0 community because on one hand it loves to play footsy with itself, it functions as a giant echo chamber looped onto itself. And, in some quarters, it’s turned nasty. It also feels way too much like the nascent independent film movement of the early 1990’s. Everyone was running around spending their own money on projects looking for an angel to come down and pave their way to creative and financial bliss. Now, I don’t have a problem with the work, or the dream, but in how it’s done. From two decades of experience what I do know is that the people who succeed are those that work on the craft and create compelling and professional content. It’s a real skill and an art. Forgetting that is deadly. If you endeavor to reach out, and communicate with others with skill, it works and people watch. And, when that occurs, the money follows. And, if you are lucky, a lot of money follows.

And, of course, since it involves money, which has its own pitfalls. By the late 90’s, the indie film industry was overtaken by the Hollywood “indie” studios. Even if you could raise your own money, make your film and get it into a major film festival, that didn’t guarantee that it would ever get into theaters. The studios had too many competing “indie” films of their own to release anyway. Many studios would buy up small film festival entrants and put them on the shelf to languish, just to ensure the film wouldn’t be released, its topic too close or too good to compete with something they’d already produced. Or even better, they’d manipulate the festival buzz on a given film to ensure that it did not find a buyer.

Today, the internet promises to provide a venue to equalize the distribution playing field a bit. But, it is important for web 2.0 producers and filmmakers looking to the web as a distribution model to realize that right now as I write, the big fish in Hollywood are planning to do the exact same thing in distribution online as they have done in theaters and TV. That is: control a good portion of it. And, access to the internet, with very few exceptions, is through corporations that are currently creating long term relationships with Hollywood studios and independent studios.

This is why the professional writers and producers are holding back in getting too deep into the web production world. The money isn’t in place, and the distribution is not in place. Thus, the atmosphere for many in the independent web production world is one of the wild west- no adults, free to do what you want, there’s always a seat at the bar and the drinks are all free. Thing is, you look around and it’s the same faces all looking for the same person: the one who has the wallet to pay for the drink.

There will be a user created world, a semi-professional world, and a professional world in the next web movement. Quality and money will be linked at the hip. A few in the first will make money, a few in the second will make money, and everyone in the third will make money. The big pay days will be there. The others will be seen as necessary to maintain viable communities online.

The interesting show to me would be one that combined those worlds to their greatest advantage. Democracy in action. At least for a little while until the next next web comes along.

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war made easy… but you pay the price

Posted by on Apr 11, 2008 | 0 comments

Ralph Bernardo of Disinformation posted this trailer clip for “War Made Easy” and thought it worth sharing:

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grass roots

Posted by on Apr 9, 2008 | 0 comments

the fabulous furry freak brothers movie is on the way. love it. one of my all time fav comics. it’ll be stop animation, like Wallace and Gromit. here’s a test trailer:

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south park on the web 2.0 "revolution"

Posted by on Apr 4, 2008 | 0 comments

Via TilzyTV, see that Stone and Parker have spoofed the web 2.0 scene in a recent episode of South Park. Very funny. Yet, while Josh at Tilzy focused on the WGA and internet stars, I thought the episode brought an interesting situation to the fore which I’ll discuss after the clip:

Josh at TilzyTV notes that in the ep, Kyle says the following, which rings true (one of the great things about South Park- instilling a bit of truth info in the satire):

While the internet is new and exciting for creative people, it hasn’t matured as a distribution mechanism to the extent that one should trade real and immediate opportunities for income for the promise of future online revenue. It will be a few years before digital distribution of media on the internet can be monetized to an extent that necessitates content producers to forego their fair value in more traditional media.

That last sentence is very interesting for two reasons.

First, it’s a fact that professional writers and content creators are not getting involved with online content because there is no money in it yet and because most of the video content online is crap. While there are plenty of passionate content producers entirely willing to create content for the web for little or no money, it simply doesn’t gather an audience that can be sustained. It’s the result of there being no money to create good content (because quality requires time and yes, money) and the fact that so many online producers simply don’t understand or have the skill set that is required to create content of the quality and consistency that will lure big money, and thus the best creative minds and ultimately an audience.

When you create a pilot for traditional media, often with very little money, you have to attain a certain level of quality and entertainment value. You have to make a dollar look like a million. Quality attracts investors and money. This is a reality put into practice by producers of traditional media every day for decades. It is something that is put to the test in theaters everywhere for centuries.

But, it’s a reality that seems to be lost on producers of internet shows. It’s become acceptable to produce crap and use the fact that they had no money as a crutch and a bargaining chip, or as a “look”. Thing is, it never works when it is done in traditional media, so why would it work with online media when the money is coming from the same finite group of investors? It doesn’t. The fact that budgets on reality shows always spiral downward after the first season is one example of that particular money trap.

Yes, there is no doubt that it’s a catch-22, you are expected to create a quality show with no money in order to attract the money to create a quality show that everyone can then make even more money from. That’s how the game is played.

For those who are currently struggling to create content online with no money, this is the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the bar has to be as high as broadcast and cable in regard to production value, creative content, delivery and audience reaction even when you have no money. Just because it’s on the web doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be good. Because that is what the money people are waiting for- quality that they can justify spending money on online shows. And, they simply have not seen it yet from the independent sector.

Which brings us to the second important point: road tested traditional media producers and writers are in the wings, waiting for the money to start flowing. And when and if it does start to flow they will pounce and the money people will gather around them. And, as occurs in the indie TV and film world, those with the current connections will benefit the most.

Alas, the continual drum beat of it only being “a couple of years” until the money starts flowing for online content, I’ve been hearing that for almost ten years now.

We shall see.

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scorsese and shine a light and rock films on wnyc

Posted by on Apr 1, 2008 | 0 comments

Soundcheck on WNYC. A good listen: (about ten minutes)

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shine a light

Posted by on Apr 1, 2008 | 0 comments

Martin Scorsese’s performance doc on the Rolling Stones, Shine a Light, is coming out very soon. Here’s a short clip of the bones playin’ “Sympathy for the Devil”. Looks and sounds great, which is to be expected from the director of one of the greatest filmed concerts ever.

(Took the embeded video away because it auto played upon each load of my main blog page. Annoying. Autoplay should always be set to false…)

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the future of social networking is in the past

Posted by on Nov 30, 2007 | 4 comments

Bill McKibben has written an interesting article in The Atlantic on how internet radio trumps satellite radio because internet radio makes local radio global. His point being that community is what people crave, and local community allows people to connect in a way that a disjointed, chaotic or simply programmed (24 hours of music but no talk.) does not.

The web will be the venue of the next media movement, but first it needs to iron out the kinks. It will be community based and the closer it can get to real time, the better. At first, like Facebook and Twitter, the social communities will be random and somewhat disjointed, the result of who is in your address book and using the application too, mixed with connecting via random interest in a plethora of searched words, links and web sites, all brought together by curiosity, the technological newness of the application and the desire to reach out and touch someone.

The process is similar to how AOL chats worked in the mid 90’s.- a new computer, new connection to “cyberspace”, and lots of people just like you, looking to talk. Both ICQ and AOL were great at bringing strangers and friends together, but the common elements that create a lasting and growing community were lacking. It was pretty chaotic. People coming and going, not really getting any farther than idle chit chat, which is pretty much the scene on Twitter and Facebook and My Space. IM’s function in a similar manner, as do text messages.

At first, the AOL chat rooms that were so popular began to morph into something else. The ability to create your own chat became the popular choice and established AOL created chat areas faded away. But, not all of them. Some of those prefab chat rooms on AOL began to coalesce into more specific communities, and you’d notice that the same 50 to 100 people were now regulars. Like a cyberspace bar.

The binding connection was like minded lives and interests. You could find anything from car talk to conspiracy talk to bondage in the AOL chat area. My hangout was a public chat called Hollywood Tonight, and once the membership became solid, it evolved and moved into the Hollywood Cafe, a place hidden away in a mostly forgotten area of AOL, which meant that it wasn’t really monitored by the AOL police and that you pretty much had to know where it was to find it. So, it was pretty exclusive.

The “HC” was a den of thieves and Cheers all at once- celebrities, producers, agents, writers, directors, crew and wannabes- all hanging out at the wee hours of the morning talking about pretty much everything under the sun, but most especially movies and the biz. And, when you entered (assuming you’d already gone through the ritual verbal hazing for a month or two), a bunch of people knew your name. (Or your screen name actually.) It was the flamiest place on the web and the most fun. But, you had to pay your dues. Everyone knew each other in either the cyber world or the real world or both. And, relationships were tight. The famous mingled with the infamous and the nobodies. The real action was in IM’s of course.

What linked everyone together was their love of the movie and tv industry and networking. People networked for everything- agents, scripts, connections, introductions, cyber sex and in a number of cases, real sex. And, there was even a real world meet up at an LA bar where everyone could actually meet the people they’ve known only through a bemusing screen name. They’d chat about work, and network. It was quite the hot spot. We affectionately referred to ourselves as “the dorks”.

In the end, it was destroyed by the elements that destroy most communities- a deadly combination of outside forces and inside acrimony. Whilst the members of our little community devolved into clique fighting and petty arguments, the little virtual bar we called the Cafe was under assault by the corporation that was AOL. The area that we inhabited was to be discontinued. (The chat room was part of the Hollywood Online area, and it was dismantled when AOL acquired Moviefone.) For awhile we moved into a private chat, but the member limit was too low, and only allowed 30 members at a time, when it wasn’t uncommon for a daily chat to flow to over 50 and the active members on “the dork list” numbered easily over 100. Plus, being a private chat meant that new members couldn’t join unless they were invited and sent a link to the chat by an existing member. So, new blood was cut off. All in all, a deadly combination that doomed the Hollywood Cafe to the dustbin as a place of legendary social interactive networking on the web years before anyone had thought to call it that.

It’s the great example of how AOL pretty much killed itself by eliminating one of the most popular features for a good number of users. They could not see the value in a community of people all congregating in large groups, at the same time, nearly every single night of the week, but especially on weekends and during big industry nights (the Oscar night chats were incredible, especially when it wasn’t uncommon for someone we knew to be there.). It would take another ten years before corporations like AOL would see the value (on their terms, which means collecting information on users) of social networking at its best.

Today, much of the social networking applications are weak substitutes for the intensity that was a good AOL chat room. From sex talk to philosophy, it was all there. But, more importantly, relationships were built and nurtured and destroyed and rebuilt and abandoned and kindled and ignored, new friends found, enemies were made, just like the real world.

The lesson is that in order to foster a strong social community, the sense of place – even a virtual one- has to be solidly established. It’s essential. Not just a location on the web, not just a web page with all of your likes and information on it. Facebook and Twitter are both lively and interesting communities, but that sense of place and of intimacy is not there yet. Information about what you are doing and thinking moves back and forth, but that sense of place isn’t. Even a virtual Cheers is better than the emptiness of open cyberspace. It’s about the people in the space, it’s about the ability to mimic what we do in person- congregate in groups together and talk and hook up. Simply knowing what someone is thinking or doing at any given moment isn’t enough. You have to be able to take it to the next level, to connect on an intimate level and make a friend or an enemy.

Otherwise, it’s all just chit chat, an endless loop of nothing. Like 24 hour all country radio on Sirius or XM satellite. No signposts in the road. Just fence post after fence post after fence post.

I can think of nothing so boring.

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