A review of last night's "New Girl" coming up just as soon as I reinstate my ban on high-waisted shorts...
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A review of last night's "New Girl" coming up just as soon as I reinstate my ban on high-waisted shorts...
"Mad Men" finally returns to television next Sunday, March 25 at 9 p.m., but because creator Matthew Weiner is so paranoid about spoilers (and has a much broader definition of the concept than almost any other showrunner), the "Mad Men" panel at PaleyFest spent virtually the entire time looking back, not forward. Fans got to watch last season's finale, "Tomorrowland," and though moderator Elvis Mitchell tried to prod Weiner for a few details about the upcoming season, the biggest tidbit the show's creator revealed is that (spoiler alert!) Lane Pryce will become a Mets fan.
But with almost the full cast on-hand (Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks had other commitments), there was plenty of time to reflect on where we left the characters when "Tomorrowland" aired 17 months ago, to learn a bit about how the actors see their Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce alter egos, and to get a few amusing anecdotes along the way. Among the highlights:
Craig Zobel's first feature film, "Great World Of Sound," was a low-key charmer that I enjoyed enormously. It's got a great unique voice, and I don't think it easily fits any single genre description. Now, with his new drama "Compliance," Zobel's made an aggressively unpleasant film, but with intent. The film asks hard questions about basic human psychology, and it is a harrowing experience that closely follows the details of the real-life story that inspired it. I can't say I liked sitting through "Compliance," but I can say that I think it's significant, and that it cements Zobel's place as a serious filmmaker with an important voice.
"Compliance" tells the story of one horrifying day at a fast-food chicken place, where Sandra (Ann Dowd) starts out off-balance because of an overnight freezer mishap. Sandra's an older woman who has no real rapport with her young staff, no matter how hard she tries, and she's not particularly good at the business of managing people. She might be good with the daily details of running the restaurant, but she's awkward and tries way too hard when she's talking to Becky (Dreama Walker) or Kevin (Philip Ettinger) or Marti (Ashlie Atkinson).
You know that very famous Coco Chanel quote about how a woman should look in the mirror before leaving the house, then take off one accessory? You know, so she looks elegant and not like a crazy homeless person? Someone should have dropped that hint to NBC, because "Fashion Star" is one hot, over-accessorized mess.
The approach to building this TV show seemed to be, if an element worked on another show ("Project Runway," "Biggest Loser"), cram it in! Add a lot of loud music! And some go-go dancers! And some recognizable names! And shopping! And sad stories! And fighting! This show is sort of like a turducken or that "SNL" Taco Town skit (it's 15 great tastes rolled into one!). While it's the American way to want too much of a good thing, this is just a stomachache waiting to happen.
I love that the SXSW awards are announced at this point in the festival because it means I can use the second half of the festival to catch up. In some cases, I'm surprised that something I've seen is on here, and pleased because I'm having a good festival overall. They've programmed the hell out of SXSW this year, and I'm really enjoying the surprises I've seen.
Some statistics they sent over to put these awards in perspective: "The 2012 SXSW Film Festival hosted a total of 132 features, consisting of 74 World Premieres, 17 North American Premieres and 11 U.S. Premieres, with 58 films from first-time directors. 138 shorts will screen as part of 12 overall shorts programs. The nearly 275 films were selected from a record number of overall submissions, over 5,300, comprised of approximately 2,000 features and 3,300 shorts. This was a 7% increase over 2011 despite moving submission deadlines a month earlier than in previous years."
I feel like there are certain people I've interviewed to the point of familiarity, and in each case, I'm glad it's these people that are the ones I see over and over.
It becomes easier and easier to just pick up the conversation where we left off and talk about the new thing and talk about their craft, and it's better, I think, for you as the reader. You're going to see a more relaxed version of this person, and that's going to mean you'll get something more genuine out of them.
Case in point, there's this set of interviews from "Jeff Who Lives At Home," the new film from the Duplass Brothers. It's weird how omnipresent they seem at this moment. For example, today, I went to a SXSW screening of their film "The Do-Deca Pentathalon," and then I got out and started writing up these interviews for their other film "Jeff Who Lives At Home," which I've been writing about since Toronto last year. Mark was also in "Your Sister's Sister" and "Safety Not Guaranteed" at Sundance, and we talked to him about all of those.
A review of tonight's "Justified" coming up just as soon as I invite you up here to discuss the sociology of baked goods...
Donald Sutherland is a titan, and it is a genuine pleasure to get a chance to engage him in conversation.
Sure, I wish it had been in circumstances other than the sort of forced five-minute intimacy of a press junket, but for a guy like this, you take what's offered. His career has been filled with so many remarkable and eccentric high points that it's hard to even know where to start complimenting him or how to even dig into his body of work.
His presence as President Snow in "The Hunger Games" is crucial. Although Snow plays a key role in the trilogy as a whole, he's really not a figure of any weight in the first book. In adapting it, Gary Ross has built Snow into the film organically, and I think he is an important part of the film as a whole. He has to be. If you're going to really make the final film pay off, you need to introduce Snow as early as possible.
It also helps that they cast Sutherland, because he's a smart actor who brings this real weight of experience to the table. I think one of the things that made him such a popular presence in films is that laser-sharp intelligence of his. He was the perfect Hawkeye in "M*A*S*H*" because it seemed impossible that he could ever lose any verbal joust. He's drawn from the tradition of a Groucho Marx or a Bugs Bunny. He not only enjoys the contest that good repartee can be, he is also unquestionably great at it.
A review of tonight's "Cougar Town" coming up just as soon as part of my fantasy involves bragging...
It'd be difficult to list every aspect of the recent McG atrocity "This Means War" that killed off a tiny inner part of me: between its creepily candid misogyny, casual xenophobia, apparent miscasting by Magic 8-Ball and every utterance by Chelsea Handler, we're still only in the introductory stage. But few things about this veritable feast of failure dismayed me quite as much as the appearance (it'd be a stretch to call it a performance) of Angela Bassett as a CIA commander.
Stomping sporadically into the frame to bark orders at Tom Hardy and Chris Pine with her typically impeccable e-nun-ci-a-tion with not so much as an expression or character trait going spare, it's the kind of thanklessly robotic grunt work any uninformed viewer would be astonished to discover is being delivered by an esteemed, Academy Award-nominated actor -- and comes less than a year after she was last spotted in an identically sexless non-role as Stentorian Boss Type in "Green Lantern." It's dispiriting to see any decent actor in parts this perfunctory and ill-conceived; for one of the most gifted and beautiful actresses of her generation, it's positively mortifying.
If the first two songs we’re hearing are any indication, Jack White’s solo album, “Blunderbuss,” will be all over the place.
Today, White began streaming “Sixteen Saltines” on his website. He debuted the song on “Saturday Night Live” a few weeks ago, but that was a bit of a loud mess. The recorded version is also very loud, but hardly a mess. It’s a batch of glam, rock, blues, and Jack White’s special sauce. And it goes hard.
[More after the jump...]
There will no doubt be a lot of finger pointing on the Disney lot over the next couple of weeks about what exactly went wrong with the release of potential tent pole "John Carter" this weekend. Of course, anyone with a clue in the Mouse House knew they were battling a losing cause for weeks (if not months) and only the miracle of unexpectedly positive reviews (which didn't happen) or over the top international grosses (well, there's Russia at least) could help the project break even. What's most distressing about the entire situation is that if you were to step back a big screen version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original "Princess of Mars" novel should make an intriguing film for a broad audience. So much so that filmmakers such as John McTiernan, Jon Favreau and Robert Rodriguez were all attached to direct movies based on the material over the past 30 years. And yet, even with Oscar-winning Pixar legend Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") passionate about bringing his childhood inspiration to life, "John Carter" is now a name that will live on in Hollywood infamy.
Make the movie first, then determine if there is a brand
From a strategic standpoint, CEO Bob Iger's intention to focus on films that have the potential to be lucrative brands that generate profits outside of the initial film release has merit. In fact, Disney may have lost money on the hand drawn animated feature "Winnie the Pooh" last year, but they more than made up for it by reviving the company's merchandising around A.A. Milne's creations. And yet, outside of the already established "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, the studios efforts so far have mostly fallen flat. "The Muppets" is deemed a success by its $88 million domestic gross, but the marketing was so generic it likely hurt the film's box office prospects (how could a family film with such glorious reviews and multi-generational appeal gross under $100 million during the holidays?). The studio let Stanton make his own movie (more on that next), but from a marketing perspective they looked at it as a brand first and not a movie. That may work in television or other entertainment arenas, but not so much in the movie business. From the first teaser trailer to the first poster to the outdoor advertising to the final poster and almost every piece of marketing material in-between, too much of the "Cater" campaign was fashioned as a brand campaign, not a movie campaign. The studio did everything possible to try and sell those words "John Carter" in your face as something to associate with fantastic imagery while forgetting the need to sell either a marketing hook or the movie's storyline. By the time they got around to trying to fix it, moviegoers and TV viewers (subject to TV spots and a useless Super Bowl spot) had already reacted to the film with general ambivalence. At that point, you've only damaged your brand, not grown it.
Inflated expectations and pandering to a Pixar filmmaker
It won't help his standing in the filmmaking community that Andrew Stanton pretty much made it a mission in his publicity efforts to note that the way everyone has been making live action films over the past 100 years is "wrong." Instead, they should reshoot and add scenes and shots not once (a process traditionally called "pick up") but just as often as animated films do (which can mean completely starting over from scratch). Of course, that assumes that the cost for that process is similar to a CG or animated film and boy is it not. Granted, that didn't really affect box office on its own, but it led to the film being released considerably later than originally planned. After shooting for almost seven months, "John Carter" finished principal photography in July of 2010. Because of Stanton's massive reshoot "process" it finally was released in the late winter of 2012. That's a long time to generate negative buzz in the media, even if it's unwarranted.
Star power has its advantages
There is a problem in a live action film when your most recognizable actor, in this case Willem Dafoe, is unrecognizable under a motion capture animated facade. Taylor Kitsch may have a long career in front of him, but a role on the low-rated "Friday Night Lights" and a bit part in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" should not be the qualifications for a film like this. Even in Kitsch's next film, "Battleship," he's been surrounded by familiar faces to the public including Liam Neeson, Rhianna and Alexander Skarsgard. If Stanton was going to eventually spend $250 million (a conservative estimate), he should have at least cast a star or two to help open the film (how about one of a dozen well known actresses to replace Lynn Collins?). Granted, we're not sure someone such as Ryan Gosling would have taken this role, but at least more of the moviegoing public would have recognized him.
What's a movie title anyway?
Stanton knew that the film could never survive at the box office Burroughs' original title, "A Princess of Mars," but like many filmmakers before him he figured "John Carter of Mars" would suffice. Instead, he recalls Disney came to him saying that they had done extensive research proving that the "of Mars" portion would turn off women (perhaps because of the novel "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" or something like that). Of course, the idea "John Carter" would ever be a completely four-quadrant film (meaning it appealed to both men and women, over 25 and under) was a major miscalculation. Having somehow forgotten the lessons of their Bruckheimer successes in the late '90s and early '00s (whoops, wrong regime), the studio mistakenly went from the proposition that "John Carter" could be a family franchise in the "Pirates" vein. In their view, if the movie was to succeed it would have to be simply titled "John Carter." And yes, it's a title that means nothing to 95% of the moviegoing audience and likely sounds more like an inspirational drama more than a planet hopping epic. Keeping the original title could have gone a long way in perception in the genre community and obviously would have given it a sense of wonder. Speaking of the genre community…
If you have a genre movie embrace the genre community
Disney is the only studio to completely re-launch a cult 1980's franchise with "Tron: Legacy" (cough, grossed more worldwide than J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek") and still question how they did it, why they did it and whether to make a third film. That trepidation is partially why the studio skipped bringing "John Carter" to Comic-Con which was probably the one event featuring 125,000 geeks and genre fans who might have immediately gotten behind it eight months out (and lord knows the reaction if it was called "John Carter of Mars"). Sure, Disney will say Universal's experiences with "Scott Pilgrim" and "Cowboys & Aliens" over the past two years proved their theories about Comic-Con were right, but we'd throw HBO's success with "Game of Thrones," 20th Century Fox's buzz-building for "Prometheus" last summer and Sony's re-launch of "The Amazing Spider-Man" as examples of Comic-Con done right. Oh, and the studio's early groundwork for "Tron: Legacy" wasn't bad either. When the studio didn't send "John Carter" - which obviously had been in production for over a year and a half - it sent huge red flags within the genre community and created a worse result: unintended negative word of mouth.
It looked like 'Prince of Persia 2'
You have to wonder if either Stanton or the Disney marketing execs saw the studio's own film released in the summer of 2010, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time." The idea Stanton would costume Kitsch so closely to "Persia's" Jake Gyllenhaal or create a desert world that looked so similar is eyebrow raising. Moreover, if Disney execs red-flagged this for Stanton and he ignored them than he only has himself to blame. When the film's first teaser debuted last summer, the most common refrain was "Gee, doesn't that look like 'Prince of Persia'?" And that was hardly the first impression Disney needed as they rolled out their campaign.
PR campaign rule #17: Make your movie seem special
It's hard to sell a lump of coal to audiences as gold (although it has been done), but "John Carter" isn't a bad movie. Unfortunately, it just isn't outstanding or groundbreaking. Neither Disney's beleaguered publicity team or its overall marketing efforts could do anything to make it seem special besides pushing the "brand." Moreover, starting to compare the film's source material as the inspiration for films such as "Star Wars" or "Avatar" was a tactical mistake. James Cameron, George Lucas and others may have mined Burroughs' grand ideas, but it only reiterated to audiences that "John Carter" isn't anywhere near as original as those modern classics.
Red-orange is not a great color scheme for a movie campaign (aka, 'That was one bad poster')
Again, Disney (and possibly Stanton) took the brand idea for "John Carter" too far with the film's poster. Do you know what colors successfully dominate most movie poster or key art (the industry term) campaigns? Blue, black, white, red and gold. So, while going with a dominate orange and yellow design may seem like a smart way to differentiate yourself from the competition it did the opposite. It created a retro-esque campaign look that made the film look even less appealing to the under 25 demo. Notice, Disney's international marketing division went in a completely different direction (and an alternate look here). It may not be a perfect solution, but at least it's more intriguing. The studio also didn't help itself with an outdoor campaign with a tiny John Carter battling white monsters (white apes) that anecdotally made the film seem more strange than intriguing. The irony is that Stanton actually created intriguing imagery that should have sold the film in print form. We'll likely never know how much of the print look Stanton signed off on and how much Disney's president of marketing at the time (the now departed M.T. Carney) pushed on him, but considering his experiences at Pixar he should have realized the campaign they had going forward was not going to work.
Will Disney change its tune regarding its brand philosophy? The company has jettisoned former New York Advertising Agency wunderkind Carney in favor of Participant Media's Ricky Strauss who is credited with helping guide a strong campaign for DreamWorks Studios and Participants' "The Help." Can he make sure the studio's next tent poles - "The Avengers," "Brave," "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Oz: The Great and Powerful" - avoid "John Carter's" fate? We wouldn't worry about Marvel's expected blockbuster or the first Pixar film in a year, but the latter two? Hollywood and Disney investors will be watching.
Why did or didn't you go see "John Carter"? Share your thoughts below.