Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bad Trailering A Hollywood Epidemic

Years ago, before it became 'the Ryan Seacrest and his stable of crappy reality shows channel,' E! used to air a fun show hosted by Todd Newton, called "Coming Attractions." His tag line was that it spotlighted 'the best part about going to the movies - the trailers!' He had a point, back then. Getting an early look at what's coming down the pike used to be one of the big treats to a day or night at the cinema.

Not anymore.

Movie trailers have become infuriatingly spoiler-laden, cinematic killjoys that give away key plot points and basically sap much of the need to actually see the movie it's supposed to be encouraging people to see. It's gotten so bad I find myself trying to time my arrival to the theater so that I miss everything but the fake crying baby sound that tells the moron in the 6th row aisle seat to turn off his Blackberry.

This has been bothering me for years. In fact, I can pinpoint it to a specific trailer, 1998's "The Negotiator." I remember seeing the spot for the first time in Miami, at the AMC at Mall of the Americas. I vividly recall thinking, as the trailer unspooled, how cool this movie looked. Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey butting heads in an action thriller, with guns ablazing, corrupt cops, and in a high-rise? I'm there Opening Day! How often do you see A-list stars oppose each other in a big-budget film, I thought?

And then, the trailer gave away the big twist, that these two wind up on the same side. See for yourself.

How annoyed must I have been at the Spoiler-ish nature of that trailer that I still remember, more than 10 years later, how much it ticked me off...yet I have not the foggiest idea which film it preceded?

Two especially egregious examples of bad trailering have occurred this summer, involving the same studio. Warner Bros.' decision to include a MAJOR plot twist from "Terminator Salvation" in a trailer is one of the dumbest Hollywood decisions this year (although a clear second to Universal's decision to greenlight "Land of the Lost"). Whichever schmendrake at the studio said, "let's reveal that Sam Worthington is part machine in the trailer" should be forced to work the craft services table on the set of the "Hotel for Dogs" sequel.

[It's hinted strongly around 1:00 into the trailer, then flat-out Spoiled around the 2:20 mark. And don't bother getting mad at me for Spoiling it for you. You lose the right to complain about that stuff when the film's been out for a few week.]

Why does the fact that studios can't seem to help themselves from Spoiling the surprise twist get me so upset?

Because seeing the Next Big Thing, or at least 2:30 of it, gets the juices going for movie fans unlike any other. I'm sure I'm not the only one who starts nervously tapping his fingers on the armrest when a familiar logo, such as Lucasfilm, pops up suddenly onscreen, heralding a preview for an eagerly awaited epic. Remember the Geek-bumps you felt when you saw the trailer for "The Phantom Menace" for the very first time? The first time you viewed the teaser for "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?"

So what if both movies turned out to be crap? We didn't know that when we glimpsed the advance reels. Our interest was piqued. Anticipation built. Lines formed outside theaters. Unrealistic expectations were formed. Many not-so collectible collector's items were sold and stacked unopened in parents' basements.

What I'm saying is, those trailers DID THEIR JOBS.

Trailers are teasers, appetizers meant to water your cinema taste buds and expand your belly in advance of a film feast.

Which gets me to my other example of Bad Trailering by the WB, involving this year's breakout hit, "The Hangover."

I saw "The Hangover" back in April, two months before it hit theaters on its way to nearly $170 million box office to date (as of this writing). I hadn't seen a single ad for it. About all I knew about the film was that early online buzz was strong and the annoying guy from "Alias" and "Wedding Crashers" was part of the cast.

So after seeing it - and LMAO during just about the entire movie - I started recommending it to everyone who asked me about it. Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes did the same during their review on my sadly-cancelled movie show REEL TALK.

You know what else I was telling everyone? DON'T WATCH THE TRAILERS! Change the channel the moment one of the ads (and there were LOTS of TV spots) came on, because the spots include just about every wild twist in the movie. Don't believe me? Watch it below.

Now some may argue this is an example of why reveal-heavy trailers work. After all, "The Hangover" is on its way to becoming the biggest-grossing comedy of the past decade, with a sequel already in the works. But for those in the audience who saw the trailers, who know Mike Tyson is going to be singing Phil Collins and punching someone out and know there's a Tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and a naked Asian guy in the trunk, they missed out on the NO IDEA LAUGH. What's that?

The laugh that comes when something comes so thoroughly out of left field you nearly pop a button in your 501s guffawing. I was lucky enough to experience that with "The Hangover." I wonder how many people were able to do the same.

I can't stand watching movie trailers anymore. Why? Because less is more when it comes to teasers, and because I still enjoy surprises, especially at the theater. Modern movie trailers seem designed to eliminate that element of the moviegoing experience. For the life of me, I can't fathom why.

Incidentally, I have never bothered to see "The Negotiator." Don't need to. I saw the stinkin' trailer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

iPod Shuffle: 'Just Like Paradise'

This classic late 80s pop-metal gem from David Lee Roth has been a mainstay on my Nano since I saw the Broadway show "Rock of Ages." I literally hadn't heard it for nearly 20 years. When the band at RoA started playing that wailing guitar solo at the start of the show, it didn't register at first. Once I heard the chorus ... I instantly was back in the days of Edwin jeans, 3/4 sleeve rock jerseys and highly intoxicated concerts at venues like the long-gone Hollywood Sportatorium.

Big Hair metal bands don't get much more respect now than they did back in the brief heyday but there is no doubt those groups could crank out some catchy tunes. My jogging playlists always have a few metal bands in the rotation. Besides DLR, right now I have Rush, original Van Halen and Bon Jovi to keep me moving. Something about the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus template that just lends itself to a good run.

BTW, I saw David Lee and his band perform "Just Like Paradise" at the Sportatorium in 1988. Wouldn't you know it, some wily bootlegger snuck in a camcorder to the cheap seats. Nice security...anyway, enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Daily $&@% Rant - Fantasy Baseball

Reason No. 451 Why Life Isn't Fair: When injuries cripple your fantasy baseball team. I have so many hurt players right now I've run out of spots on the disabled list. Jabroni Nation (that's my team name) currently resides in 7th place in my 10-team ESPN league.

If you don't do fantasy sports then you've no doubt stopped reading this.

If you have signed up at one point for the office baseball league as a morale-building exercise, then you know how frustrating it can be to build what you think is a quality team through the draft and free agent pickups, only to see your chances of success get cut off at the knees by a rash of injuries. It happens to every fantasy guy at some point -- happens all the time during football season, actually -- but this is the first year I've endured so many damn injuries.

I know I sound like I'm a whiny, complaining little schmendrake. So what if I am? Is it too much to ask of your big league multi-millionaires to stay somewhat healthy for at least 3/4 of the season. Hey Grady Sizemore, would a little extra stretching before games kill you? Because your being on the DL is certainly KILLING ME NOW.

If Brandon Webb were a super villain, he would be known as the Man of Porcelain. Good grief dude, why is it every time I draft your health collapses like a house of cards??

I've been doing fantasy sports for nearly 20 years. I know when you're in a deep league, if you lose one of two of your starting lineup at the same time for an extended period of time, you're up the proverbial creek sans paddle. Part of the game. But I've got a half dozen starters riding pine right now. For the sake of Pete's luv, Fantasy Gods, SHOW SOME MERCY!!

The only upside to my team resembling an outline for a very special episode of "Greys Anatomy" is that all my guys were hurt early. Nady, Sizemore, Webb and Kyle Lohse. Hopefully they'll come back fresh and ready to give me a big boost in stats after the All-Star break.

It will be especially nice to see Nady and Webb back on the active roster. Both of those dudes have been on a fantasy milk carton since the season began.

Guys, feel free to contribute to the Jabroni cause as soon as possible. It's the least you could do.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thomas Haden Church Imagines Life on 'Mars'

Here's the interview THC did with Jeffrey Lyons for this weekend's episode of REEL TALK. A few minutes in, he mentions his likely next role, in the John Carter film.

Watch Kevin Costner Interviews exclusively from Reeltalk.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thomas Haden Church Going to Mars?

Earlier today Thomas Haden Church, hands down one of the funniest guys you will ever have the pleasure of crossing paths with, dropped by REEL TALK's 30 Rock studio to chat up Jeffrey Lyons about his role opposite Eddie Murphy in the kid-friendly "Imagine That." In the middle of an interview that was all over the place -- it tends to happen with Jeffrey & THC, who go wayyy back -- Church mentioned that his next project will 'probably' be a big science fiction film for Disney.

That movie? "John Carter of Mars."

I wasn't in the studio at the time but when I heard it in playback I was taken aback. Now, unfortunately, it appears he's in the film in a supporting role, not the lead role, which I think he would be perfect for. He's got the rugged look that fits and he's a dude's dude. He can pull off all the macho crap you could want or ask for in an action part ... and John Carter's all about action. Still, any Thomas Haden Church is better than no Thomas Haden Church.

He's probably doubly excited since the production would be a home game for him. According to johncartermovie.com, the movie is planning to shoot in Texas, Church's home state and the place he still calls home.

It's good to see him involved in another high-profile project. He was fantastic as Sandman in "Spider-Man 3" and I have zero doubt he'll be a big asset here.

Of course, with a film as laden with roadblocks as this one, He may never get a chance to show his stuff. This film is really taking the long way around the development stage, and it may need a brand new GPS to make its way to production. Too bad, because as unproduced properties go, this one's off the charts in terms of potential.

That Edgar Rice Burroughs guy kinda knew his stuff, know what I'm sayin'?

Scorsese Gets Creepy

Looks like Martin Scorsese is going spookier than he's ever gone before with his next film. "Shutter Island" reunites the now Oscar-winning director with his muse Leonardo DiCaprio for the latest Dennis Lehane movie adaptation. The first trailer for the film is downright creepy. It will be interesting to see if Scorsese can still bring the spook and scare, since it has been 18 years since "Cape Fear" (that scene between De Niro and a young Juliette Lewis is still so, SO WRONG!!).

And is there anything that can cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up faster, than a mental hospital on a remote island? Methinks not.

Another frightening thought: Leo actually looks believable as what appears to be a grizzed federal marshal. When that guy starts looking the part of a 'grizzled' anything, then I know I'm getting old. "Shutter Island" debuts in October.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Man and Machine: A Love Story

One of the MANY great threads running through Duncan Jones' tremendous new film "Moon" is the complicated relationship between Sam Rockwell's lunar miner and the only other entity he is able to communicate with on the Dark Side of the Moon, GERTY (Kevin Spacey, you have one creepy voice).

At first, it's almost like the relationship between a master and his pet. Only it becomes clear very quickly that who you think is in those roles, is not really the case. Then the tension between the two increases, until...well, you'll just have to see the film to find out.

I've been talking this movie up for more than two months now. I just hope now that it's finally opening (NY/LA this weekend) it will find the audience it deserves.

One of the many things "Moon" has made me think about is how humans and highly-evolved machines get along in the movies. While often it's an adversarial relationship - Machines rebel against their creators, go A.I. and tell puny humans to know their role -- there are just as many examples of light-hearted bromances, like Buck Rogers and the 25th century sidekick Twiggy, and of course that 80s Dynamic Duo, Michael Knight and K.I.T.T.

There are so many other examples... two that come to mind is Dr. David Bowman butting wireheads with HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey", and of course, the two droids who showed Luke Skywalker there was more to life than moisture vaporators on Tattoine. Go ahead and take your bow, Threepio, R2.

When done well, this dynamic delivers strong commentary on everything from our growing dependence on modern technology to the dangers of artificially intellectualizing (is that even a word?) the devices and gadgets we build, because we're too lazy to do things on our own. They can also be great comic relief. And who doesn't get a kick from a cute, bumbling robot now and again?

I know I'm missing several other notable examples. Care to enlighten me? LMK your memorable Man (or Woman) & Machine movie relationships. Post 'em in the comments.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Update: Spider-Man Musical Ticket Info + Video

A day after getting an unexpected behind-the-scenes look at the in-progress musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," today I received an email from Marvel regarding ticket information. If you use a special code (1MARVL), American Express cardholders can buy advance tix to the musical now through June 23rd. After that, ALL AMEX users can buy them. The advance code works either on ticketmaster.com or via phone, 877-250-2929.

All the information is on the show's official website.

You can also find video interviews with director Julie Taymor, as well as Bono and The Edge.

Preview performances for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" begin January, with the official opening set for Feb. 18, 2010.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Exclusive!! Spider-Man Musical Info (sort of)

First, I'd like to apologize to my three or four regular readers for being so slack with the updates recently. Been slammed dealing with the fallout from the unfortunate cancellation of the syndicated movie show I produce, "REEL TALK." We'll hopefully have some good news regarding the next incarnation of the show with Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes. Until then, I promise I'll stay on top of this blog much more than I have, sharing whatever news and opinions I stumble, bumble and fumble across.

To show you I mean business, I have some very interesting news to report today, regarding the upcoming Broadway musical, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." There has been NOTHING about this show, outside of the recent casting call and the news that Julie Taymor will direct from a score by U2's Bono and The Edge. So imagine my surprise this morning when I snagged a peek at some very early footage of the show.

It was completely by accident, and not due to any clever journalism on my part. I happened to be attending the Tony Awards rehearsal at Radio City Music Hall with my wife. It's sort of an annual tradition for Cindi and I, since we're both big theatre fans. They run through the entire show, full cast performances, announcing the nominees, congratulating fake 'winners'...even the host , Neil Patrick Harris, ran through his quips.

So during the down time in what will be the commercial breaks, they run various video clips. Some are old TV spots for long-forgotten Broadway shows like "Timbuktu." Others are promos for upcoming shows. Imagine my fanboy surprise when an image of Spider-Man showed up on the massive Radio City screens.

Then they played a montage reel that showed Bono, Edge and Taymor discussing the show and what they plan/hope it will be. They had video of actors in harnesses flying through the air on wires, along with some special effects that looked to be in the early stages. There was also a shot of a drawing of Spidey's Rogue's Gallery, featuring familiar faces such as Electro, Carnage and Sandman.

I couldn't make out the others because I was busy taking pictures with my wife's iPhone. Apologies for the distant pix but i was sitting in the rear mezzanine.

Now, very little is actually known about the show's storyline. In fact, other than the fact it will involve the 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility' angle, NOTHING is known. We don't even know who's going to be playing Peter Parker (although Evan Rachel Wood has done some public campaigning for the role of Mary Jane Watson).

But there are a few kernels of info we can glean from the video shown at the Tony rehearsal. For one, it looks to have visual effects unlike anything Broadway's ever seen (makes sense, with the estimated $40 million price tag). There were two shots shown (one of which I caught in a pic) that featured these effects.

More important, I glimpsed one guy flying around with some kind of wingspan, not in any way resembling how Spidey would look web-swinging around town. My first instinct was this was a look at one of the villains in the show.

The Vulture, maybe? Morbius?? The Green Goblin perhaps, although it did not look like someone sitting on any type of Glider.

Obviously this is all speculation, but I can certainly picture a story that includes several familiar foes tackling Webhead on stage. Regardless, this is one of the more fascinating events to appear on the pop culture radar in some time, because of the sheer risk involved. I can easily see this being either a tremendous success or a humongous flop.

Julie Taymor is a visionary director. Forget her brilliant work with "Across the Universe." if you've ever seen "The Lion King" on Broadway, you know she's capable of incredible stage reinterpretation of iconic movies. She has some heavy duty help with half of U2 in charge of the songs. Will that be enough to make a memorable musical out of our beloved Web-Spinner?

"Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" opens in February, 2010.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

We Need A Hero! (A Super One)

Mystique, take note. Bonnie Tyler would have been a way better choice for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants pre-cog than Destiny.

If there were any doubt about the importance of comic book heroes to the movie business, just go stand around the watercooler or Keurig coffeemaker at work. The deafening silence you hear is proof that without our beloved capes, Hollywood's money-making time of year is missing that all-important ingredient: BUZZ.

Pardon me for bursting the bubble of "Star Trek" fans everywhere. That film has been the big hit so far -- deservedly so, it's a fantastic overhaul of Gene Roddenberry's universe -- but it hasn't sparked the zeitgeist like last year's early breakout star "Iron Man" did, or how the late-season phenom "The Dark Knight" did.

Some could argue "Sex and the City: The Movie" had more people talking than "Trek." Look, when you've made $230M+ at the box office in less than a month, you have nothing to apologize for. J.J. Abrams and his team did their job. But six weeks in, the Summer of 2009 is well on its way to falling short of the Summer of '08 not just in terms of overall dollars earned, but pop culture immersion. In fact, this summer movieseason is actually kind of boring.

It just feels like we're going through the motions. Obviously, people are still going to the movies. "Up" and "The Hangover" were neck-and-neck for the box office crown this weekend, so there's proof right there. However, people just aren't talking about the movies as much as in years past.

"Did you see the new Pixar movie? Yes, it was great! So sad...cute dog...old people rock!"

"Up" was an incredible moviegoing experience, and perhaps the best movie of the year up to this point. But it hasn't captured the imagination of a large section of the country. Partly because no Pixar movie ever does anymore, because each year, when we think this is the movie that will finally be a letdown -- a chef rat? A robot movie with no dialogue for 30 minutes? An old guy in a balloon-lifted house?!? -- Pixar proves us wrong. But it's almost as if we expect them to do it. So it doesn't catch us off-guard like Robert Downey Jr. suddenly reinventing himself as an action hero did.

Part of the problem is unavoidable because it has to do with timing. After all, you can slot in monster-budgeted event films all summer long but phenoms can't be predicted or programmed. They just happen.

Everyone knew TDK was going to be big, but NO ONE could have predicted it would have been 'second highest-grossing film of all time' big. No one knew "Sex and the City" would prove that a chick flick could do blockbuster biz. And we were waiting nearly 20 years for a new Indiana Jones film, so forgive us if our excitement to see Harrison Ford don the fedora again clouded our judgement on THAT film.

Contrast last year's crop with this summer, when we've had up to now a new Trek, a Terminator sequel that made T3 look cool, another top-notch Pixar movie, "Night at the Museum 2" and..."Land of the Lost."

No wonder people aren't talking movies as much.

Yes, I know "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - a 100% comic book movie -- kicked off the season, but doesn't that film seem like it opened a million years ago? Hugh Jackman's film is the only comic adaptation opening this summer, and that's precisely my point. Without these caped crusaders, men of steel or friendly neighborhood multiplexers, the movies just don't seem be very much on people's minds, during the 'fun' time to be a movie fan.

The comic book movie is the dominant Hollywood species right now, the type of movie that get people excited about rushing out, opening night, to see it. In the 40s it was war movies; the 50s were the era of the sword and sandal epics; the Bond movies became must-see movies in the 1960s; the 70s saw the high-concept blockbusters rise to glory; the 80s were all about the action movie.

The first decade of the 21st century? All about the comic book adaptations, baby. These movies stir Hollywood's drink, butter its bread, shine its shoes.

In other words, super heroes are the home run hitters. Comedies are the spray hitters who hit for a high average but who rarely hit one out of the park. Nothing wrong with that. You need good tablesetters to have a successful team (just ask Warners, which looks to have a big comedy hit with "The Hangover" that could ease the sting of "Terminator Salvation's disappointing performance). But without your power guys, you're likely not going to win, at baseball or movie profiteering.

Chicks dig the long ball, and so do studio execs.

Without any more comic book films in the wings, the boys of summer, circa 2009, have become singles hitters.

Last summer, admittedly an aberration, two comic-based films earned over $300M, "Iron Man" and "TDK." Unless "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" or "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" do it, there will be no summer movie to cross that threshold.

It's important to note that making $200 million at the box office remains a spectacular measure of success, by any type of accounting (even Hollywood's notoriously shady calculations). But when a film hits $300 mil, then it becomes a true blue, rub-your-eyes and say-what? phenomenon.

That figure is far from exclusive to comic book movies. The LOTR and Star Wars prequels all reached it, as did the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But in this day and age of reboots, remakes and franchise continuations, movies based on super heroes offer studios the best chance to soar to such heights.

The expectations are so high for comic book-based films that a movie which makes nearly $400 million can be considered such a disappointment, it sends the entire franchise back to the drawing board.

Do you know how many studios would rape, pillage and torture to have the box office receipts "Superman Returns" brought in? Only problem is, when you're talking about the World's Most Famous Super Hero, anything less than $600-700 mil worldwide is out of the question.

The reasons why expectations are so high for such films are probably well known to most of you: Sequel potential, merchandising opportunities, multi-media expansion, etc, etc.

They also offer the greatest potential for the most powerful form of marketing known to man: Word of Mouth. I can't tell you how many non-comic fans waited until after the first week to see "Iron Man." Once they started hearing from me or other friends how good it was, they rushed out to get in line.

We geeks, we're an excited bunch. When there's a film we like, we'll talk it up through any means available to us. Be it Facebook, Twitter or our own blogs (look Ma, no servers!), we'll spread the word.

But while I LOVED "The Hangover", after a few Tweets saying how LOL funny it was, I kinda run out of things to say about it. Now, "Hellboy II" or "Watchmen" or "TDK", you can break those movies down on a variety of levels. How it compared to the original comics, the actors, the special effects, the tone ... the Easter Eggs hidden inside the movies. The texture to these films lend themselves to being overanalyzed, unlike comedies or romances and many dramas.

How many message boards devoted to "The Departed" have you lurked on? Registered on any "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" fan sites recently?

A word of warning however, to my four-color friends. Better enjoy this ride while it lasts, because if history is any indication, it won't.

As studios mine comics for any and all possible franchise starters, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. The Spider-Man and X-Men franchises exist as proof, and the "Wolverine" prequel offers more confirmation. Just as science fiction movies fell out of a favor in the early 80s, and action films in the early 90s, you can bet your CGC 9.8 copy of Marvel Two-in-One #51
that the same thing will happen with comic book movies. It is inevitable.

How many more Spidey movies can Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire make? How many X-prequels can Fox squeeze out before they wind up being direct-to-DVD fodder? Marvel's already rebooted two big-name heroes - Punisher and Hulk - within 5 years. All that does is dilute the core property.

Besides, what fresh faces are left to prop Hollywood on it's broad, spandexed shoulders? Green Lantern seems, at least to me, to be the best hope for breakout success. It has the type of character and mythology that if done right, could be something spectacular. Flash too. Some would say Wonder Woman, but they're all DC characters and that company seems to have a problem getting corporate sibling Warner Bros. to do right by any of its heroes who aren't Batman.

As for Marvel, Captain America is the obvious choice for their Next Big Thing. But considering his most identifiable move is throwing his mighty shield, I'm a bit concerned on how he will translate to the screen properly. I have similar concerns for Thor and the Avengers movie Marvel's film studio is laying all this groundwork for.

I'm personally hoping each company has an 'Iron Man' or 2 still left in them. By that, I mean an adaptation that catches people off-guard with its fresh ideas and inventive reinterpretation. I don't know if it's Luke Cage or Booster Gold, or even Invincible (Image guy I know), but watching a B-level hero break out onto the A-list would be just as, if not more than, much fun as seeing "Spider-Man 4" break box office records in 2011.

There is something to be said for being surprised, after all.

(now go click on the video. you know you want to)