Friday, November 18, 2011

Letting Creativity Flow Without Fear: Monte Hellman's "Road To Nowhere"

Shannyn Sossamon in Monte Hellman's "Road to Nowhere."

By Lars Trodson  

Here's a fantasy: Monte Hellman's latest movie, "Road To Nowhere", gets submitted to film festivals. Juries hail the new direction this audacious talent has taken. Major studios bid for its distribution. It's released nationally. The performers in "Road To Nowhere" go off to busy Oscar-nominated careers and everyone would be asking: what will Hellman do next? Best of all, the meanings and merits of "Road To Nowhere" would be debated in the newspapers and the coffeehouses around the country.

But back to the reality: We don't live in the 1970s and these aren't terribly curious cinematic times.

And so Hellman's movie, finished in 2010, has not found a mass audience. It is the latest, but no means last, effort by the justifiably revered Hellman.

With "Road To Nowhere" Hellman adds a new color to his canvas. There is no stamp of the director's earlier, earthier works (seminal westerns with Jack Nicholson in the 1960s; "Two Lane Blacktop" in 1971) and little to connect it to the paint-by-numbers product Hollywood is happily and profitably offering up these days. It is its own animal. Hellman allows his movie to continue down its tunnels of dark possibilities.

The Monte Hellman Interview with Roundtable Pictures

Lars Trodson: There’s a moment in "Road To Nowhere" when Peter Bart from Variety asks the director Mitchell Haven “do you feel rusty?” and so, did you, after more than two decades away from making movies, feel rusty?

Monte Hellman: I always feel rusty in the sense that whenever I start a movie I don’t remember anything about the process. I have a panic attack several days before, but as soon as I get on the set - it’s kind of like you think you don’t know how to ride a bicycle, but when you get on it’s okay. That’s what happens. I get on the bicycle and sure enough I don’t fall off. That’s what happens everytime I make a movie.

LT: Technology has changed since you started making movies. I thought the way you shot this film was fascinating. (It was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II. The director of photography was Josep Civit.)

MH: The technology had been changing. It changes so fast you have to keep up with it everyday. But I had been into digital film photography for 20 years and so I had already decided in my mind that digital was better if only because you have more control. Every movie director is a control freak, and I’m no different. So when I saw that in still photography I could make much more precise adjustments and control the color much more accurately than you ever can when you’re dealing with chemical baths and the difference in temperature from one bath to another. It always drove me crazy when movies would shift color from one reel to another - so this way it’s consistent. I discovered that HDP is better. It’s almost like three dimensional when you see it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Patriotic Peacock Feathers

By Lars Trodson

During the Republican debate that was broadcast on CNN a couple of weeks ago, I began to wonder what message the network was actually trying to convey. Was the debate an opportunity for the candidates to get their views out to the viewing public? Or was it a chance for CNN to tell the world that it was the most patriotic company Ever?

I was asking the question because, as my attention drifted away from what the candidates were saying -- nothing even the most casual observers of politics had not heard before -- I became mesmerized by the set.

Look at that thing! It was a massive display of the stars and stripes. Fields of blue! Stars! America!

Now I am old enough, and interested in politics enough, to have some memory of debates going back to at least the mid-1970s, and I was thinking I had never seen anything quite like this. I didn’t even know if I had seen such a display just four years ago (or was it just three?).

A quick tour of the images from past presidential debates was illustrative. From the first debate in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy until the 1990s, the decor behind the candidates was actually rather subdued. We’ve compiled a little slideshow for you here.

I know that advancements in digital technology has made a lot of this possible. But, as they say, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

The “debates”, as we all know, are a joke; a weak framework for moderators and politicians to strut their stuff, each to their own whims, demonstrating their general disregard for substance and heft.

I know that CNN has been called “liberal” -- which is another way of saying that you are anti-American.

But, really, fellas, you protest too much. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to ask if there has got to be a better way for us to listen to those running for office.

A good first step, it seems to me, is to not dwarf candidates for the presidency of the United States in a blinding storm of digital patriotic peacock feathers.

A Halloween Treat From Roundtable Pictures

With Halloween fast approaching, we wanted to share an encore presentation of "The Palmstone," an original radio drama written and directed by Lars Trodson and performed by The Radio Players of the Seacoast.

"The Palmstone" aired live here on July 31, 2007, and was serialized over four days.

You can listen to all four parts now, by clicking here.

Trodson said of "The Palmstone" in 2007, "I had been looking for a ghost story to write, in part because I was interested, at the time this project came about, in writing strictly genre pieces. I had written an art heist play -- produced at a local theater -- and written and produced a romantic comedy called “Family Trees”, which was an independent movie we made in 1997. And so I thought one of the things I should try was a ghost story. And a radio play seemed the best way to exercise that desire.

But I couldn’t come up with a good story. Every idea I had I Googled, and discovered I had unintentionally cadged someone else’s story. Frustrated, I started to read old, forgotten ghost story texts in search of inspiration. Anything that would spark a good idea that I could turn into my own.

It was during that time I first read “The Monkey’s Paw.” I was completely enamored of the story, and it is no secret that “The Palmstone” is an adaptation – or, in the parlance of today -- a reimagining of that original story.

I wrote several scripts simply retelling the details of “The Monkey’s Paw” – none of which were satisfactory. Simply put, “The Monkey’s Paw” tells the story of a couple who has in their possession a severed monkey’s paw, a talisman, that allows them three wishes. They use those three wishes, and the results are much more complicated, and horrific, then they could have ever imagined." (You can read more about "The Palmstone" here.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Memoriam: Norman Corwin, 1910-2011

My great friend and a true inspiration to me has died. LT

Hear Lars Trodson of Roundtable Pictures interview Norman Corwin here.

Read an obituary here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Looking For Love on 9/11

By Mike Gillis

It’s a beautiful morning on September 11, 2001. On the 70th floor of the World Trade Center, a stockbroker is on the phone ordering tickets to that night’s Yankees and White Sox game. A newly hired executive assistant clutches a small peace lily plant, a Coach bag stuffed with family photos, and a desk lamp from home for the late nights ahead, all destined for her new desk on the 90th floor. An analyst on the 79th floor wakes up on a couch, as he often does after a rollercoaster day in the emerging markets, and remembers he missed his son’s football game again. A courier meets a new friend on the stairwell of the 88th floor. Her friend will admit, finally and suddenly, that their friendship means much more.

While none of these stories may be real, they are likely. There were thousands of similar stories unfolding within the walls of the World Trade Center on 9/11 in the moments before the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m.

For most of us, the story of 9/11 begins after that attack. The stunning and important accounts of survival, rescue and tragedy continue to be told on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. They should be.

When we set out to make our short film, “Tuesday Morning,” we only knew we wanted our story to acknowledge the thousands of stories that will never, can never, be told. Those stories unfolded simply and without attention, as do most moments in our lives.

During a question and answer session after a screening of the film at the Red Door in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Lars Trodson, who wrote the film, said, “We had heard from the survivors. We had certainly heard from people on their cell phones to loved ones after the plane had hit, which are terrifying to hear, and we heard from the police and fire departments, which is completely appropriate. Those moments dedicated to life before anyone knew what was happening, we haven’t heard, we wouldn’t hear. We knew there were moments of grace and happiness in the building that day. We thought we would try to capture that moment.” (You can hear the entire question and answer session with the filmmakers here:

Our story, which began as a stage play by Trodson, changed in many ways over the two years that culminated in the film you see here now. However, the reason the film exists remains its constant:  to celebrate those stories of grace and happiness that will never be told.

Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to tell a story that demands such grace without two actors who understood that goal from the beginning. Whitney Smith and Teddi Kenick-Bailey breathe life into this picture. Their performances are simply beautiful. Real. I say “breathe life” because this is a story about life, foremost. It also suggests that life is meant to enjoy, savoring those moments that define us, because life can end abruptly.

In addition, we had a small but spectacular cast and crew to help shape our story: Jonathon Millman, Stanton Barker, Christine Long, Jason Santo, David Steffen, Alex Knuuttunen, Andrew Bohenko, Judy Levine, Mark Dearborn and Casey Mitchell.

So, as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrible attacks of 9/11, we wanted to share our own small tribute to the untold stories of that day. We hope you find a little love and happiness here, amidst the wreckage and destruction.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Word Is Out! Eagles Fly Alone Is The Book People Can’t Put Down!

Here are a few unsolicited and unedited reader comments:

“Dear Lars, I loved your book! I started it on Sunday morning and didn’t put it down until I finished it on Sunday night. I haven’t enjoyed the luxury of reading all day since college (and then it wasn’t a luxury!).Langley’s character just keeps getting more and more complex as his relationships with other characters reveal who he is and his outlook on life. I enjoyed the twisting storyline as the plot thickened. I have thought about Langley many times since I finished the book. That is true testament to the vitality of a good read.So where is Fenton? Really?I am looking froward to the next Langley Calhoun Mystery!” – Marsha Brown, Hampton, NH

“I finished the book last night. I have to tell you I really enjoyed it immensely! You know, it really reminds me a lot of the Alexander McCall Smith books, The Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Those are very much chick-lit, but I ADORE the books… the mysteries and investigations are very secondary to the brilliant characters in the books. If you haven’t read any of them, I recommend you read at least the first so you get an idea of what I mean. They are very short books, but I savor every page. I love the feel of the town you’ve created, the tension between the brothers, between the selectmen and various townspeople, and I loved Antonio. Will the next book pick up where the first left off? I mean, have we seen the last of Antonio? I thought [Bill] Plano was a great villain and I also loved Maria Tull. What an ass! I can really picture these corrupt characters in a small town… big town also!” – Debbie Tillar, New Castle, NH

“I enjoyed Mr. Trodson’s new novel, Eagles Fly Alone, immensely. I found it to be a good mystery story, with interesting characters, especially the main character, Langley Calhoun. I also thought the book was an easy read. In fact, I read it in one sitting, finding that once I got into the story I could not put it down. I am really looking forward to meeting up with Langley Calhoun in his next adventure.” - Fred Dolman, Portsmouth, NH

Click here to get your copy of Eagles Fly Alone

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lars Trodson's Novel Eagles Fly Alone Out On Sept. 1

A new thriller by Seacoast writer Lars Trodson, titled Eagles Fly Alone, will be published nationally by Mainly Murder Press on Sept. 1.

The novel will be available at bookstores and also online at all major booksellers. 

Eagles Fly Alone introduces Langley Calhoun, a police chief in a quiet New Hampshire town called Fenton. Chief Calhoun is well-liked and he loves his little town. But then a rare, dead eagle is found on someone’s property. The eagle, which has been deliberately killed, is looked upon as nothing more than an odd, eerie incident by the townspeople until Chief Calhoun begins to look deeper into why the rare eagle was brought to Fenton, and who might have killed it. What he finds sets the whole town on edge, and destroys the fragile bonds that have held his own family together. 

Editor Jack Murphy said the publishers at Mainly Murder Press “originally thought of this as a mystery for men, but women are going to love Langley, too. Brave, smart, loyal, loving – what’s not to like? He’s a terrific protagonist from any point of view, and we wish him well.” 

James Landis, author of such novels as The Last Day, said “You’ll want to be alone when you read Eagles Fly Alone. In one sitting. Uninterrupted.  It’s that compelling. Mystery. Complex family tale. Love story. All wrapped around, and within, the wonderful Langley Calhoun. Long may he live in many more books by the formidable new writer, Lars R. Trodson.” 

The novel weaves together the threads of a unique mystery, while also creating a vibrant picture of New England life. Its customs and idiosyncrasies are richly detailed, and the novel is filled with surprising, fascinating people who help  propel the mystery along. 

“I wanted to write a great mystery, something fresh, but I also wanted to write a uniquely American book,” said Trodson. “I know that people are frustrated with our country now. But this is a story of people who do the right thing, and who are honorable and decent. They struggle but they also succeed, which I think is a story of also what’s happening in America today. I wanted to paint a picture that’s not idealized, but one that is also real and hopeful. The ending of this story is a triumph because so many people do the right thing – and they hold accountable those who don’t.”

Trodson has been a writer and editor in the Seacoast for the past 20 years. He has had numerous plays produced at The Player's Ring in Portsmouth. Five films that he has written and produced have been selected for the New Hampshire Film Festival. He has been honored numerous times by the New Hampshire Press Association and the New England Press Association for his newspaper reporting and editing. He is currently the VP of Public Relations for JBC Communications in Portsmouth.  A public reading will be held at RiverRun Bookstore, 20 Congress St., Portsmouth, NH at 7 p.m. on Sept. 7. For more information for sales and other public readings, please visit For media inquiries please call (603) 498-4742.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Manohla Dargis: One Of The Worst Movie Reviews Ever

This is a great example of what is wrong with modern American movie criticism in print journalism today. This is a review of a major motion picture in a major newspaper. The New York Times, in fact. I defy anyone to figure out whether Manohla Dargis is actually recommending you go see "The Help" or not. Can't she -- or her editors -- get to the point? Is the paper hamstrung by a possible boycott of advertising if the review is no good? Who knows? We'll post the link, but you're better off spending your time taking out the garbage.


Lars Trodson is the author of two novels, "Eagles Fly Alone" ( and "Tide Turning." (

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Has 'On The Road' Been Delayed?

I was searching around the net kind of casually looking for news about the upcoming film version of "On The Road." I saw a couple of blogs saying the movie had a release date of early December in France, but no US date, other than a vague announcement it would be later in 2011.

But the "On The Road" listing on IMDB has been updated to say that both the France and USA release will come in 2012. The film has apparently been in postproduction since last December. The film is produced by Francis Ford Coppolla, among others, and directed by Walter Salles. It has an interesting cast.

Delays usually mean trouble, so we'll see.

-- LT

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Peter Falk The Troubador

By Lars Trodson

The only appropriate analogy for John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel I can think of is to the members of the Beat generation. Each group inspired each other, argued with each other, propped each other up when others were down, and generally swam against the tide even when very few people believed in them.

When Peter Falk died last week I really wasn’t thinking about Lt. Columbo, although I love that character. I was thinking of this group of actors that supported each other’s dreams and aspirations in a way you really don’t see any more. They created a body of work that is unique, just like the Beats did.

They worked for each other even though there was no money involved. Orson Welles had his itinerant group of actors that helped him out over the years - Akim Tamiroff and the like - and so did Cassavetes. This included Peter Falk.

Falk gave money to Cassavetes so he could complete “A Woman Under The Influence” in 1974. They made “Husbands” together, which is ambling but beautiful. Falk appeared in a cameo in “Opening Night.” Everytime you see these guys in an interview they’re smoking and sitting in some bar or restaurant. They’re invariably fiddling with a cigarette lighter. I suppose this glamorizes smoking but so what.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Independent Doctrine of J. Todd Harris: How To Get Your Movie Made and Distributed

One of Hollywood's Busiest Producers Talks Indie's Future 

By Lars Trodson

J. Todd Harris, CEO and founder of Branded Pictures Entertainment, has made or helped to get made 37 movies in the past 16 years. Even Woody Allen can't keep pace with that. The films range from last year's Oscar nominee "The Kids Are All Right" (on which he was an executive producer) to the big-splash "Piranha 3D" to the much admired "Bottle Shock" from 2008.

Harris is, if anything, the embodiment of the modern independent producer. He's funnelling movies through the system for a wide range of audiences, and he's adapting his methods to the times. He now takes time everyday to work on social and business networking. He's even recruiting athletes for his lacrosse movie through Facebook and other platforms on the Internet. He's juggling projects between major Hollywood players such as the Weinstein Company to a new filmmaker working out of Georgia.

He seemed the best person for Roundtable Pictures to talk to about the challenges facing the independent movie scene. The movie business, Harris readily admits, is changing as rapidly as the music scene. And there are many questions: How do you get your movie distributed? How do you combat piracy? How do you raise money and how do you market a small independent film when the competition has $50 million to spend on a marketing campaign?

He also answers a central question -- and young, independent filmmakers in places all over the country outside of LA should pay attention to this: Do you need to be in Los Angeles to have a career in the movies?

Harris is voluble, blunt, likable and smart -- he's a New Yorker. When he talks about the movies he's obviously onto a topic that he's in love with, after all these years, and one that he knows intimately. He's also a man on the go. "I’m on my way to Vermont -- I’m making this ski movie in Vermont," he said when we first got him on the phone. "I flew into Manchester (NH) last week and drove up to a ski resort to discuss shooting the movie at their resort."

He adds: "In the meantime" -- in the meantime! --  "I’m gearing up to do a lacrosse film in about eight weeks."

So we grabbed a little time with Harris while we could.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Snapshots of Street Art

Here's a look at our five short videos featuring the street artists who recently visited Portsmouth, NH, as part of the Portsmouth Museum of Fine Art's street art exhibition. The videos can be seen at the museum during its Street A.K.A Museum exhibit through September. For more information on the exhibit and museum, visit

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kubrick and Kelly In 'The Box'

By Lars Trodson 

The confluence of Richard Kelly, the creator of “Donnie Darko”, and Stanley Kubrick is a compelling one, but it doesn’t seem that the convoluted psycho-sci-fi thriller “The Box” was the right venue for the combination. 

The Kubrick flourishes that can be seen in “The Box” (from 2009) don’t seem terribly organic to the kind of story being told. Kubrick, of course, could tell any kind of story in any kind of style he wanted. That was his business. But if you’re going to copy a style as distinct and as famous as the one Kubrick formed in the films between “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Eyes Wide Shut” I think there had better be a pretty good reason for it. 

The only reason I can think of why Kelly conjured up Kubrick in "The Box" was because maybe, unfortunately, he didn’t have any visual ideas of his own. The Kubrick found in “The Box” seems to be both random and not, in the end, quite enough. Either go all in or let it go. In “The Box”, it’s somewhere in between. 

Still, it’s an interesting trip if you’re into this kind of cinematic puzzle. I found almost a dozen Kubrick cues in “The Box.” Maybe you can find more. Or maybe I’ve made connections that aren't there. Here’s the list:

    •    The cheerless Christmas atmosphere -- Found in “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999)

    •    Big, creepy mansions -- “Eyes Wide Shut” and “The Shining” (1980)

    •    Oval overhead sectional hanging light fixture -- Seen in “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)

    •    Snowy landscape -- “The Shining”

    •    The “Kubrick look.” (Head tilted down with eyes looking up and out, distantly.) -- Everything between “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Full Metal Jacket” (1987). I can't find it in "Eyes Wide Shut"

    •    Obligatory bathroom scene. Just about everything, it seems, including “Spartacus” (1960).

    •    Gaudy wallpaper. Reminiscent of what can be seen in P & M’s apartment in “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)

    •    Kid with a bowl haircut who is randomly victimized. “The Shining”

    •     Strange baroque room interiors -- “2001” and “Eyes Wide Shut”
    •    Glacially paced conversations -- “Lolita” (1962), “2001”, “Clockwork”, “Barry Lyndon” (1975), “The Shining”, “Full Metal Jacket”, “Eyes Wide Shut”

    •    Sideways tracking shots -- Everything from “Clockwork” through “Eyes Wide Shut”

Marilyn Monroe - Born June 1, 1926

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Bad Trend On The Horizon For Independent Film

By Lars Trodson  

I wanted to go to the movies today, but I have a problem. A big problem. I live in New Hampshire. Over the years I’ve grumbled slightly that most of the movies that I really want to see never arrive here. Or they arrive months later to play at the one of the local art houses, but by then I’ve probably seen the thing on another format. Or, worse, I've simply forgotten about it.

Maybe that’s the strategy for these smaller movies. Give them a limited release, get all the press you can in the big markets, and milk everything you can out of the home release.

But what it does, of course, is make me not go to the movies. I'm beginning to not even know what's out there, and this might be a problem for movies in general as we move away from renting movies from the video store to just ordering the movie online.

The release of a movie to the theaters now only really serves as a marketing function for the later home release. It may make a helluva lot of money in the month that it's in theaters, but that's nothing to the huge numbers it'll potentially pull down when you can view the thing at home.

After all, even if a movie makes a $100 million at the box office in its first weekend, that means fewer than 10 million people (domestic alone) have seen it. With 350 million people in the U.S. alone, never mind foreign markets, it still means that most people haven't even seen a HIT film by the time it's available on Netflix or OnDemand.

But there might be a gap in this marketing plan. If a movie doesn't even come to a place like New Hampshire, and I can't see it on the shelf at the local video store to remind me that a certain small movie was even made, then how will I know to choose it when it's only available online?

I think, then, there is going to be an even wider gap between the blockbusters and the smaller movies than there is now.

We have something called the Regal Fox Run Stadium 15 here in Newington, NH. It is a phenomenally ugly movie theater, with a lobby that resembles a decrepit ice skating rink. It’s all concrete, bad acoustics, video games and monstrous pop-up marketing items designed to scream THOR! with a giant cardboard hammer coming at you. It makes me not want to go to the movies. But I'll go if I want to see something.

"Midnight in Paris"
So I wanted to see “Midnight In Paris” recently -- the best reviewed movie of his late career. Or I wanted to see Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”, which recently took the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

So I go to Fandango to see what times these movies are playing. I should have known. “The Tree of Life” was only opening in LA or New York, but Woody’s movie was in wide release more than a week ago, and of course it was not in New Hampshire.

What was in New Hampshire were multiple screens showing “Pirates of the Carribbean”, the fourth installment of that franchise. There was “Thor” -- which I am sure is a franchise in the making. There was something called “Something Borrowed.” There was something called “Rio The Movie”, the title of which I am sure gives this cartoon some much needed stature. There was, of course, the monster “The Hangover Part II” -- a sequel lacking even a funny sequel title. There was “Kung Fu Panda 2” -- which I don’t think I’d appreciate because I missed “Kung Fu Panda 1.”

(I am almost certain that the highest function of a movie like “Kung Fu Panda 2” is to provide a much-needed shot in the arm for Jack Black, who was last not seen in the 3-D “Gulliver’s Travels”, and who has slummed his way through roles ever since his truly brilliant turn in “School of Rock.” But he better get on the stick quick because I don’t think “Kung Fu Panda 3” will do the trick.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hollywood Needs Real People

The Polar Express
By Lars Trodson

One of my favorite headlines (that I wrote back when I was a newspaper editor) was for a review of the movie version of “The Polar Express.” We had a local reviewer who didn’t like the film. “Last Train To Creepyville” is what I called it, and it was a reaction to the widely derided, yet early, process known as “performance capture” that was being developed by Robert Zemeckis. Everyone was talking about the “dead eye” syndrome. Performance capture couldn’t give any life to the eyes of the characters. Everybody in that supposedly charming family film looked like a ghoul.

The latest project to bear the imprimatur of this process is “Mars Needs Moms”, which I gather was received with universal ennui when it was released to theaters last week. “A Christmas Carol” with Jim Carrey is also a Zemeckis piece of machinery, and that didn’t fare too well, either.

Now comes word, on the heels of the “Mars Needs Moms” debacle, that the company run by Zemeckis to create more performance capture films has been shuttered by Disney, and a planned 3-D remake of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” has been shitcanned.

Mars Needs Moms
I have never been a fan of this technology. I actually never understood it -- given the whole eye problem and everything. I’m a huge fan of computer animation -- it was a corrective to the hideous photocopied crap that had taken over television and the movies. That stuff wasn’t charming or quaint; it was just cheap. Computer graphics brought lushly conceived backgrounds and characters that moved with fluidity and grace and, with continued advances in that field, still works quite beautifully. Just look at Pixar, naturally.

But "performance capture" seemed redundant and vapid. I suppose Zemeckis -- who put CGI effects to good use in that monstrosity called “Forrest Gump” (can Oscars be rescinded?) -- was trying to be on the cutting edge of something, and that was why he was moving ahead with performance capture.

As cynical as we may be about audiences today, they don’t fall for just anything. And audiences have been telling Zemeckis and his crew that they really aren’t clamoring for the next performance capture endeavor. Now with "Mars Needs Moms" on the verge of being a box office calamity, he has been told definitively.

Motion-capture technology was
used to create Gollum in
The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The other thing I never understood was why actors would welcome this technology. Jim Carrey famously “starred” in last year’s “A Christmas Carol.” Technicians captured his body movements and then used his voice, of course.

But what if the next development was to use someone else’s body movements and only use the voice of the actor? What would be the point? And where would that lead?

I for one am glad to see that this adventure in performance capture has at least been put on hold. Movies today are soulless enough. They don’t need to be dead-eyed, too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

NY Times Fail

The New York Times gave up some prime real estate in its Arts & Leisure section this past Sunday to talk about the new crop of tough women law enforcement characters now on TV.

The problem? The guy writing the piece talked only to male producers of the shows. Couldn't he have tracked down on of the actors that the article was actually about?

Read the fail here:

-- LT

Sunday, March 6, 2011

'True Grit' vs. 'True Grit': Which One Should Your Pre-Teen Watch?

By Lars Trodson

We live in an age that is the oddest combination: we allow everything and anything to be said or done in public while we feign a kind of Elizabethan prudishness about it all. No swearing on TV, we’re American! Isn’t that Charlie Sheen a mess? But what’s he saying now, I wonder?

At a time when mainstream movies are inching toward more and more explicit sex -- not sexiness, mind you, but sex -- Melissa Leo can’t say “fuck” on the Oscars.

This was brought home to me the other day when I picked up a DVD of the 1969 John Wayne version of “True Grit.” To my surprise, that movie is rated “G” -- that is, for general audiences, just like the kind of movie Disney used to make.

Given that the Coen brothers new version is not so much a reimagining of the Charles Portis novel as it is a simple remake of the Henry Hathaway movie, I wondered what it was rated. The answer: PG-13.

Both movies are virtually the same. I can remember one outright cuss, the ever acceptable “son of a bitch”, which is uttered in both versions. There’s no sex in either movie. I would venture to say that, aside from one shot of Moon’s fingers getting cut off in the Coen version there is exactly the same amount of violence, and about the same amount of blood. The Coens ratcheted way down their penchant for grisliness. I will say that old Rooster Cogburn’s drinking is overplayed in the Wayne version.

To my eyes, the Coen brothers version is actually tamer. Think of this: The hanging scene in the 1969 version takes place in a town square, not in the barren, dusty landscape in the Coen version. In Hathaway’s movie, people are singing hymns as the men get lined up for the noose. There are kids on swings. There are families parked in their buggies to watch the afternoon entertainment. There’s a boy selling peanuts. This version is much more disturbing than what the Coen brothers did with it, and yet this version is okay for kids, apparently.

So why does this version, in what we would often think of as a much less permissive time, receive a G rating and the new one, released in the freewheeling world of Internet porn and R-rated TV, get a PG-13?

I don’t think it’s marketing, because people don't any attention whatsoever to ratings any more. We just live in a time when we no longer know what is acceptable, and what is not.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chris Decato Music

New Hampshire-based musician Chris Decato has some new tracks out. One of the most talented writers and players around, Chris's music would enhance your next movie, play or video production.

Take a listen here and give him a call:

-- LT

Monday, February 28, 2011

Anne Hathaway Steals The Show

By Lars Trodson

It seems a bit paradoxical that in order to capture some of that youthful demographic the Academy Awards show was looking for that they had to turn to one of the few stars in Hollywood that has some of that old school glamour.

That would be Anne Hathaway.

It is certain -- yes, irrefutable -- that she was surrounded by movie people of increasingly dim wattage. James Franco, God bless him, was an absolute stiff. That Matthew McConnaughey/Scarlett Johansson routine was cringe-inducing. And Randy Newman? Best song? Really? For a moment I thought it was 1951.

But Hathaway had charm and grace and a beautiful smile and her enthusiastic high-fiving of the kids from P.S. 22 out of New York City was worth the price of admission alone. She was natural and unlike almost every other person who went on stage - aside from Kirk Douglas and Tom Hanks -- she seemed to be having a good time. There was one other guy -- the guy who won the short narrative film category. He was great. "I should've gotten a haircut!"

Mila Kunis didn't seem to understand her cue cards. And there was that awful moment when Francis Ford Coppola, Eli Wallach and Kevin Brownlow walked out on stage, stood like a group of befuddled mannequins, and watched as the stage went dark around them.

Let me get this straight. You bring Coppola out on stage and have him say nothing? You have Eli Wallach, who has worked with Kazan, Leone, Eastwood and everybody else -- you have him say nothing? He was the guy who was trying to kill the Magnificent Seven, for God's sake! You have Brownlow, one of the pre-eminent silent film preservationists, and he can't say a few words about film history? I know he's into silent film, but you can have the guy talk.

Oh, well. The 2011 Oscars just didn't feel like a Hollywood show. It felt like a TV lineup.

Except for Anne Hathaway. Thank God for her. Long may she reign.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Birth Of The Micro-Audience

By Lars Trodson

The New York Times is wondering if long-form blogging is going the way of the written letter. It is Twitter and Facebook that are claiming the attention of young people, the newspaper tells us, putting at risk the health of people who want to try to express themselves in essays longer than 140 characters.

So many media outlets have declared so many things as “dead” in the past decade, you begin to wonder why anyone would listen anymore. Marriage, TV sitcoms, the novel, your local theater, etc. so forth and so on and all dead dead dead. It’s like actually paying attention to a meteorologist here in New England: What’s the point?

The heart of the issue -- for The Times -- is that blogging has fallen out of favor with the young. The article cites a Pew Research Center report that states that blogging among 12-17 year olds fell by half between 2006 and 2009, and that blogging for 18 - 33 year olds fell by two percentage points (!)

Few other details are given, but I’ll bet, one, that many of the precocious 12 year olds who started a blog got as far as exactly one posting and then gave up. This is hard work. I imagine the other reason so many other blogs have fallen by the wayside is because there are a lot of people who think they have a lot to say when they don’t really have anything to say at all -- that, or they just don’t know how to express themselves. To get to the computer every once in a while to write an essay about something you’ve given some thought to requires concentration and stamina.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

True Grit Redux

By Lars Trodson

Outside of framing device used to open and close the film, I have no idea how the Coen brothers version of “True Grit” differs materially from the 1969 John Wayne movie. It just simply doesn’t add up that this new version embodies some new vision of the story -- or that it has been reimagined in some unique way. In fact, the bulk of both movies are remarkably the same, and I would argue that some of the scenes played out in the Coen version are weaker than in Henry Hathaway’s.

It’s true, yes, that the Coens open up with Maddie Ross, now well into middle age, reflecting back on the murder of her father and her meeting with Rooster Cogburn. It ends with Maddie seeking Rooster out, in what must have been at the end of a very long life.

But these two sections alone do not, as the Coens have asserted, put the movie squarely on the shoulders of 14-year old Maddie - which what they have said makes it different than the Wayne version. The 1969 movie was all about Rooster. This version is all about Mattie.

Not really; not at all. Yes, Rooster was played by the outsized Wayne in what turned out to be his Oscar-winning role. But you can almost see Jeff Bridges trying not to do too much with the role here. It’s a square, solid performance, but you can tell that Bridges knew that if he strayed too far, if he tried anything radical, audiences just wouldn’t accept it. He knew he was in shadow of Wayne, and he let it go.

Mattie, as played by Hailee Steinfeld, does a lovely job. But simply casting an age appropriate actress in the film doesn’t tip the balance in favor of a wholesale remake. Hailee does not erase the image of Kim Darby, who did a beautiful job in that earlier movie, and their parts seem equal in both versions. In fact, I can’t think of any really important scenes focusing on Mattie that we get to see in the Coens’ movie that were ignored in Hathaway’s. It just isn’t there.

There are some scenes, of course, that are virtually the same. Take the great early scene in which Mattie sells some ponies back to a merchant. That merchant was played by the great, quirky character actor Strother Martin in the first version and by Dakin Matthews in the second. The first version is much funnier, much snappier -- and the dialogue is almost wholly lifted from the Portis book in each. The Coen brothers version of this scene is just not as good.

After that, from the moment Rooster takes off on his own without Mattie, and she jumps in the river to catch up, from the tracking of Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper now and Robert Duvall in the earlier), to the murder of Moon in the cabin (which is much, much more exciting, violent and eerie in the Hathaway version and has Dennis Hopper, to boot), to the final showdown in the field when Rooster yells “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!”, the two movies are bizarrely similar.

It is true that Glen Campbell was a horrible choice to play LaBoeuf in the first version -- a concession to his pop music success and probably some insurance as to whether Wayne could bring in the young people -- but I just can’t find any evidence that the Coens did anything other than make a solid version of a very fine book. They did not add anything new to it. All they did was be smart enough to add a public relations spin on why they decided to make a new version of a movie classic. They traded in on the earlier version’s immense good will in a savvy way.

Good for the Coens. But as they garner more awards for their “True Grit” and its box office tally continues to grow, rather than try to sweep aside the debt they owe Henry Hathaway and John Wayne and Kim Darby, they probably ought to start to acknowledge it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: 3D Double Take?

A Look At What's Making News Today

3D movies have been with us for decades, but if you look at what's playing in cinemas these days, you might think 3D offerings are overtaking their 2D counterparts. You'd be right. And the 3D phenomenon doesn't end at the theater. YouTube and other sites are starting to offer 3D on the computer screen, tech companies are working on 3D phones, NASA's on board, and TVs and consumer cameras with 3D capability are available in droves.

But not everyone is sold on 3D. In fact, there's a growing sentiment that 3D will never really explode because our brains simply aren't wired for it.

Roger Ebert has an interesting piece on his blog, which springs from a letter he received from film editor Walter Murch. Murch, who won an Academy Award for "Apocalypse Now," lays out many of the technical shortcomings of 3D, and concludes with Ebert, "3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with. So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?"

Murch's argument against 3D is well reasoned, and Ebert goes so far as to say it "ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn't work with our brains and it never will." Read the whole piece here.

Studios aren't balking at the cost of producing or even converting films to 3D, but will it last?

The latest wave owes a lot to James Cameron's "Avatar." Here's what Roundtable Pictures' Lars Trodson had to say about "Avatar's" contribution to cinema.

-- Mike Gillis

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: Kevin Smith, Studio

A Look At What's Making News Today

Kevin Smith signs deal with self, will tour with latest film

Kevin Smith has announced he's self-distributing his latest film, "Red State." Smith's latest outing was touted as a horror film, but as many reviewers pointed out after a screening at Sundance last week, the movie is less horror than it is a lampoon of politics and religion. The screening itself became a bit of a spectacle, drawing protesters from the wacked-out Westboro Baptist Church and a counter protest from Smith.

Smith says he bought his own film for 20 bucks and will begin a 13-city tour in March with the movie and some of the cast in tow. Admission to the road tour screenings will be around $60, which Smith will use to shore up a 1000-print release in October.

Smith had earlier indicated he would auction the film but changed his mind. He tells Time Magazine he has no interest in expending effort and money marketing the movie to an audience that could care less: "We're in a global economy now that does not support the kind of movies I like making in terms of marketing them. It doesn't make sense to try to sell what I do to an audience that doesn't want to see it. And I have been doing this for 17 years; I know there is the audience that likes what I do and then there are cats that don't even know who I am or are indifferent to what I do."

Regardless of what you think of Smith's films, or what Smith thinks of his critics, Smith is marching on a path beaten by a growing number of filmmakers who look to tap a core audience with more precision, while keeping a larger chunk of the proceeds.

In his own news release about the self-distribution "deal," Smith urges filmmakers to beat the system, without taking aim at the studios: "Don't hate the studio; BECOME the studio. Anybody can make a movie; what we aim to prove is anyone can release a movie as well."

-- Mike Gillis

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: Woody Allen Blows Kisses At Paris

A Look At What's Making News Today

Woody Allen's "love letter to Paris"

Woody Allen's 41st feature film, "Midnight in Paris," will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 11. As usual, the film boasts a strong and eclectic cast, including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody, not to mention Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the wife of the French president.

We're great admirers of Woody Allen here at Roundtable Pictures, but it's no secret that Allen's career has been erratic over the last 20 films or so. "Midnight in Paris" is described by the festival as "love letter to Paris," and, again as usual, explores familiar themes for Allen: art, relationships and pleasure.

We'll be looking forward to it. In the meantime, read what Roundtable Pictures' Lars Trodson has to say about Woody Allen.

Doc that inspired "The Fighter" is a true contender

David O Russell's Oscar-nominated film "The Fighter," starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, owes much to a little-seen 1995 HBO documentary "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell." The doc features the real-life boxer Micky Ward (played by wahlberg in "The Fighter") and his half-brother and trainer, Dicky Eklund (played by Bale in "The Fighter"), who box opponents alongside a vicious addiction to crack cocaine.

The documentary can be seen for free on Snag Films. The story is tough and certainly tragic, but also instructive on how Hollywood remolds fact as fiction.

See "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell" here.

Save time on your next film thesis

Writing a thesis can be a chore... until now. Mike Lacher over at Wonder Tonic offers up the Film School Thesis Generator, which makes short work of the task. Simply plug in your chosen flick and it churns out your thesis. We tested it on one of our favorite Orson Welles' pics, "F For Fake," and it spit out this: "F for Fake fragments the containment of visual pleasure through its use of telling jump cuts."

If you're bored, try it out here.

-- Mike Gillis

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: Catch A Frisbee, Coming To A Theater Near You?

A Look At What's Making News Today

Hula Hoop Dreams and Frisbee: Extreme Makeover

When the superhero well finally runs dry for Hollywood, why not a movie starring... Frisbee?

The Hollywood Reporter reveals a deal has been inked between the talent agency ICM and Wham-O to package the toy company's line-up in movies, TV and online. Wham-O's toys include Frisbee, the Super Ball, Hula Hoops and the Hacky Sack, to name a few. while I'm sure there's a market for "The Adventures of Frisbee" or "Super Balls Conquer the World," it may simply be another brand of feature-length product placement. If G.I.Joe can get his own movie, why not the Hula Hoop?

ICM has already helped steer Atari products to the big screen, including "Asteroids" and "Missile Command."

Chatting Up "The Endless Summer"

Film Threat has posted an interview with Bruce Brown, the director of the classic surf film, "The Endless Summer." Brown spends quite a bit of time talking about the lengthy process of shooting, editing and eventually distributing the film before its trajectory to classic status.

Roundtable Pictures' Lars Trodson wrote an appreciation of the film, which you can read here or as a featured post on Flixster here.

-- Mike Gillis

Monday, January 31, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: Sundance On The Mend?

Peter Knegt, who writes the The Lost Boy blog over at indieWIRE, posted a series of videos from the awards ceremony at the Sundance Film Festival, which wrapped this weekend. A running commentary on the winners, as they were announced, can be found over here at the festival's own blog. The festival has attracted some criticism in recent years for losing sight of its independent roots, if not its original mission. According to Sundance, the festival was founded "by Robert Redford in the mountains of Sundance, Utah, Sundance Institute has always provided a space for independent artists to explore their stories free from commercial and political pressures."

Friday, January 28, 2011

Roundtable Roundup: Honest Abe Slays, The Oscars Aren't So Social, And Southern Poetry

Variety reports 20th Century Fox is gearing up to launch production of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." With the casting of Benjamin Walker as the stake-toting 16th president, Fox hopes this pic will slay at the box office next summer. Based on a novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" follows the president from his early years, when his father reveals the existence of vampires, to his assasination by the vampire John Wilkes Booth. The novel received tepid reviews when released, but Fox thinks it can draw blood at the box office on the heels of an apparently insatiable appetite for all things vampire. But, really, Honest Abe turning back a Southern plot by vampires to kindle war and enslave a nation?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Will 'The Other Side Of The Wind' Let In A Little Sex?

Orson Welles with Gary Graver and Oja Kodar on the set of "The Other Side of the Wind."
By Lars Trodson

I would guess that it was not until 1973's "F For Fake" that Orson Welles finally discovered sex. As a film director, you see.

And it seems, from the brief clips available on YouTube, that Welles was even more interested in exploring sexuality in what was to be his last feature film as director, "The Other Side Of the Wind."

So, one of the great questions that may be answered when -- hopefully when -- "The Other Side of the Wind" is finally released is how Welles would have depicted sex on the screen. It is probably the one great human theme never explored in any of his films. It could be the most interesting thing about the movie. Although I think it will be exciting to see those scenes that we know Welles edited himself or to his specifications.

The possibility that "Wind" could possibly be shown publicly was reported on Nikki Finke's "Deadline: Hollywood" site just a few days ago. The announcement was not, shall we say, overreported in the popular press. It should have been greeted as though someone had found an undiscovered poem by Edgar Allen Poe.

But back to the sex. Prior to "F For Fake", which is to say just about the entire expanse of his career as a film director, Welles's films were decidedly sexless. Even when he directed the gorgeous Rita Hayworth in "The Lady From Shanghai", Welles was excoriated for cutting off her famous flame-colored locks and he (fictionally) married her off to a guy (Everett Sloane) who was hobbled by some sort or ambulatory affliction and who looked like an ogre. Some kind of sexy, indeed!