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