Friday, December 30, 2005

Cinderella Man (2005)

I saw this on the airplane last night, so it might have been missing a few things due to editing. However...

Awesome. This is probably the best movie I've seen all year.

I think the reason I didn't care to see this movie when it came out is because of the title. Something about it just doesn't appeal to me. It makes the movie sound like a romantic comedy or some kind of love story. It is a love story at times, but that element is not the most important element. The main focus is boxing and the Great Depression.

The Depression has become an era we probably don't think possible in these days of irrational exuberance. Probably about 45 minutes of the movie shows Braddock, a down and out fighter who lost his boxing license, trying to get a day's work at the docks. The men would gather outside the gate and hope to get picked by the manager. After a couple of fights that Braddock won on his comeback, the manager pulls him aside and asks him if he was the guy mentioned in the paper. Braddock says he was. Then the manager says, "Well, good job, now go get back to work [moving bags of goods for pennies on the dollar]."

The Depression seems unimaginable, but this movie does an amazing job of showing us what it was like. Braddock had made pretty good money as a boxer before 1929, and then lost it all in stocks to the point where he couldn't pay the electricity bill.

However, as with all docudramas, we again are wondering how much of the story told is really true. The first thing I wondered was whether Russell Crowe is considerably wimpier than the real James J. Braddock. The answer is no. Actually Russell Crowe is probably more buff than this guy was.

I think this movie's main issue with the truth is around Max Baer. First of all, his physique: the actor who played him was huge compared to Crowe. In actuality, Baer does not look that much bigger than Braddock did. He was about 10lbs heavier. Nearby is a picture of their fight.

Note another thing about this picture that isn't obvious in the movie: the Star of David on Baer's shorts. Let's not forget that Baer had defeated Hitler's boy Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium -- and wore the Star of David when he did it. He swore to wear it in every fight thereafter. However, it's bizarrely missing from this movie (apparently it is there, but so imperceptible as to not be there).

Baer is made out to be a happy killer because he killed Frankie Campbell in the ring--but actually he was very upset about it.

Baer is clearly the most misrepresented thing about the film, I'd say to the point where the filmmakers should be ashamed for demonizing him.

More on the true story of Baer and this movie:

Finally, it should be noted that this movie demonstrates something we've completely lost in the United States: boxing as a real sport. Boxing is pretty amazing to watch and to listen to, and in the days of yore, it represented a cultural and ethnic phenomenon. Can you imagine witnessing Baer, with a Star of David on his shorts, defeating Hitler's boxer Max Schmeling? Or Joe Louis doing the same thing? Boxing was a sport that went far beyond the ring in those days. It represented a battle, with a group of people identifying with and rooting for one of their own. Boxing has gone far, far away from that. Today it is just an illusion that makes Pay Per View money from poor slobs that are hoping for a meaningful boxing match, of which the 1930s seemed to have an endless number.

Rating: Good/Good... but the historical accuracy could use some work. Probably worth seeing on film if you still can.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hollywood, meet your new overlord

Today on Slashdot: Blockbuster gives up against Netflix. I posted a comment on this article but I wanted to expand upon the thoughts here.

Blockbuster was never competing against Netflix. They were competing against Hollywood's new overlord (to be revealed shortly). Blockbuster has tried desperately to keep themselves from sailing down the abyss in the face of technology. They changed their late fees, tried mail-in rentals like Netflix, and have tried rental subscriptions at their brick-and-mortar locations. None of these has helped in a rental market that's headed into negative territory. Right now, the only product Blockbuster has that people can't really rent somewhere else are video games, and hopefully that will change someday.

On the other side of this coin, Netflix will eventually turn out to be a blip in history. They may be around for a long time, and they'll continue to serve the needs of people who are looking for obscure DVDs, or just watch a lot of movies and want to do so on a budget. They may be even able to be profitable long into the future with that model. I would not be surprised if we eventually see movie studios desperately claw to make their own version of Netflix to fend of the monster.

That monster is Comcast.

And you thought Google was the juggarnaut of the future? Comcast will soon have put Blockbuster under and have TV networks, studios, distributors... everyone in entertainment under their thumb. And why is that? Many reasons.

For one, they've perfected DIVX. Remember the DVD format that self destructs after 24 hours and had people screaming? No one wanted to buy something that self destructs. However, Comcast has come out with a product that essentially does exactly that and WILL have customers. It's their On Demand service.

My first exposure to On Demand was pretty piss-poor. That was about a year ago, I watched "Elf" with Will Farrell. I thought the compression was horrible, the controls had an annoying delay in them, and of course the cable box UI was terrible. A lot has changed since then. Their cable box is much, much better than before. Much faster, and the UI isn't terrible. The controls are a tad more responsive, though will always have some delay compared to a local playback device since On Demand is actually streaming from the central office. But, most improved is the compression. I was watching I, Robot on On Demand earlier and it looked as good as a DVD or from HBO.

My theory is that the first company that truly gets On Demand out there and popularized will destroy everybody. Technically speaking, Comcast is already there in some markets (I'm trying it out in Illinois), now they just need to expand the content. With enough content, On Demand can make Tivo irrelevant. It can make internet broadcasting irrelevant -- who wants to download WMVs when you can watch on your TV with your typical cable box? Oh, and movie rentals? Pay Per View had already made going to Blockbuster a chore, but with On Demand you can forget it. As their library of content expands, you won't need to ever go anywhere to get your hands on that old movie -- and that's good bye to Netflix (though I believe a fringe element of movie viewers will keep them going for a while).

And finally, Hollywood. We've already figured out that no one gives a crap to see movies in the theater anymore. We've got HD sets that are better looking than most screens these days. We've got surround sound we can adjust to our own preference rather than being blown away. Now all we need is a decent way to get movies to the HD sets.

Enter Comcast. Blu-Ray or HD-DVD are at least six months out from being in people's hands and are years away from being widespread. However, today, Comcast can take any movie, get an HDCAM or D5 HD transfer of it, upload it to their server, and have it in your hands tomorrow via On Demand. They completely control the prerecorded HD market today--and will until a new format can rise to challenge them. If this continues, Comcast could easily control virtually all distribution of HD content. That would mean they'd essentially be the world's largest theater owner. That would mean they'd have more power to dictate what movies are made, play on their channels, and how they get marketed than possibly any theater owner ever.

For those not familiar with the movie business, the distributors actually market their movies to theater owners at a conference called Showest. It's as important for the studios that theater owners will show the movie as it is for people to show up at the theater. Sometimes, not as much as it probably should, theater owners vote with their feet and won't show a movie the studios want them to.

Now imagine Comcast controls a massive distribution channel for HD--larger than all theater chains in the US. Theaters sold 1.578b tickets in 2002 (most ever was that year). In 2004, Comcast had 500m On Demand views (incl. lots of free ones, I'm sure). This year, they expect to exceed 1b On Demands. In short, a service that's merely 2 years old has already reached 66% of all movie tickets sold in the US in its best year. One word: pwned.

That's bad news for theater owners, because movie studios would love to have a distribution channel like Comcast -- high definition films that aren't easily crackable by hackers like DVDJon, expire in 24 hours, and can reach 60m people (20m homes) at the touch of a button. No more having to wring their hands over digital distribution to theaters. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the next 5 years, we see a high-end, full-length feature movie get released on HD via On Demand at the same time as theaters. And of course Comcast drives what movie that would be... since their distribution is more powerful than the theaters.

Oh, and one more thing... SBC should look out too. I haven't been on a cable modem yet that doesn't get at least twice the performance of my DSL. The theory is that the switching on DSL is better, but I honestly haven't seen it. Cable providers have everything invested in data, really, when you think about it. It just makes sense that they have to keep performance up.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Box office marketing

Box office numbers are purely marketing -- people follow what other people do. Just like CBS has been advertising "We're the #1 comedy channel, football channel, etc.". So it really helps to have big box office numbers.

Once you understand this, it helps you interpret the bald-faced lies that Hollywood makes when commenting on box office numbers.

For example:

From BoxOfficeMojo: "I think the industry and the media did not understand how a three hour movie performs," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal. "Take Lord of the Rings out because that comes with the Tolkien nuts, and there aren't any examples. It's not surprising that we didn't understand it. As crazy as it is, the only one you can point to is Titanic. [King Kong] is writing its own pattern."

No, actually Shmuger, the highest grossing movie of all time (in adjusted dollars) was FOUR hours long. It was called 'Gone with the Wind,' maybe you've heard of it?

Epics sell slowly. We know this. That's why Titanic did the numbers it did, it was an epic (sad, but true). Star wars (the first three) - Epic. Raiders of the Lost Ark - Epic. Obviously, from all of the hype, Universal is desperate for King Kong to be an epic. But you have to wonder if it is ultimately in the same category as Every Which Way But Loose or Bedtime for Bonzo.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

King Kong's Friday: $14.2m

This is $10m LESS than Narnia pulled in last week, and approxmiately $25m less than what Potter pulled in on its first Friday.

Shows two things.

a) Someone at Universal is so fired right now.
b) No amount of hype can stop Hollywood from slipping into the abyss.

House of Wax (2005)

This post should be titled "Why do I keep getting suckered by Elisha Cuthbert?" and, again, "Elisha Cuthbert needs to fire her agent."

I bought this movie on PPV on a whim because of the aforementioned "actress", as well as my hope that someday, somehow, someone will make another good horror movie. I'm talking about the classics like Rosemary's Baby, The Thing, The Shining or The Exorcist. These movies (and of course all of Carpenter's work) are what made horror my favorite genre.

Little did I know that Paris Hilton is also in this movie. Ugh, they're never going to get another Rosemary's Baby with that kind of casting.

Here's a short list of what's wrong with today's horror movies.
  • Horror = The OC. Ever since Scream and I know what you did last summer, all of these movies have had casts straight from Fox and The WB with soundtracks that are trying to sell WEA's recently signed platinum-selling teen angst shill band. What ever happened to getting unknown bad actors for horror movies that have no plot, like, for example, all of the Friday the 13th movies? What ever happened to soundtracks that were actually spooky? We can only count on Carpenter to give us those scores anymore.
  • Horror = Slasher. Not one of these recent horror movies avoids any opportunity to use extreme gore. This House of Wax remake makes Friday the 13th look like cutting a into a juicy rare steak in terms of gore.
  • No tension. The only kind of tension they can create in these movies is stupidity. During this movie, I was yelling at Elisa "Goddamnit, don't go upstairs you fool!"
  • Special effects. Seriously, special effects mostly ruin horror movies. Scary is things before you see them. Don't you people get it yet?
  • Talented, brain dead directors. These guys have all of the visual abilities you can possibly imagine. This movie had incredible visuals in it. Too bad they were wasted on this movie. Why would an aspiring, obviously visually talented, director take on a piece of shit like this? Look where it got him, he's going to direct "Goal! 2". Nice job.

The only recent horror movie I'd say was in the realm of the classics was The Ring. If you haven't seen that, you should absolutely rent that instead of watching something like this craptacular movie.

One more time... Elisha Cuthbert, fire your agent!

Rating: Bad/Bad. If you accidentally turn it on HBO or something, get some emergency eye wash as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

King Bomb

King Kong only pulled in $9.7 on Wednesday, even though it was in 3700+ theaters. That makes it the #21 all time Wed opener... below Meet The Fockers and Pokemon.

When you figure that it costs more to see a movie now more than ever, and this movie cost $200m+ to make, this does not bode well for Hollywood. After all the hype about how this movie would be as big as Titanic, maybe I'm not the only one out there who doesn't care to pay $10 to see a remake of a remake. I hated the 1976 version anyway. It's a dumb, boring story. Sorry guys!

I'd much rather see "V for Vendetta" -- why they hell aren't they releasing it before March?

(edit) ... I thought my King Bomb headline was original, but then I read this article, where he suggests a few other snappy headlines for King Kong failure:,1259,---27454,00.html

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

24 Hour Party People (2002)

I'm a huge fan of the Madchester music movement. Name off some of my favorite acts from the 80s and early 90s and they're all in this group: The Farm, Charlatans, 808 State, Happy Mondays, James, Smiths, New Order, and, of course, the Stone Roses. When I was working at a record store in 1991, I begged my boss to let me have "Electronic" (the joint venture between Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr) the night before it was supposed to be on shelves. Of course, I loved it at the time, and now I recognize that album as the marker of a end of a great era of music (Amazon calls the disc a "two-man Manchester supergroup" -- that ought to tell you something).

Based on all of this Madchester fanaticism in my history, I had been dying to see 24 Hour Party People. This movie is the story of Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, both of which were instrumental in putting Manchester on the map.

I came in thinking I'd love this movie -- and I did, to a point. More on where that point is in a second.

The movie starts off with Tony (Steve Coogan) doing one of those quaint news stories for a local TV station -- this one about hanggliding. He jumps off a hill, glides around, then crashes a few times. At the end of the story, when he's off the air, he turns towards the "real" camera, and spouts off about how this whole scene is symbolic, relating it to that of Icarus. He then mentions that "if you don't know who Icarus is, you should read more."

Ok, hopefully this will be the only time in history the names "Tony Wilson" and "Icarus" are ever uttered in the same paragraph. Tony: you have nothing on Icarus. He's a famous myth, you're a guy who lucked out enough to record albums with Joy Division. But this is just one indication of how this movie wants to represent the era they depict.

The problem with representing genius, either on film or print, is that the moment of genius is usually only about 0.5 seconds long. The results of that spark might last for years, but the actual moment of genius is pretty brief. In this film, they tried to tell us the spark is a concert that the Sex Pistols played in Manchester. I find it hard to believe the Sex Pistols can inspire anything, but, ok, I can buy that a bunch of guys were inspired to form bands because of seeing an SP show. Being inspired and the "spark" are two different things.

The spark of genius for the Madchester movement wasn't recorded in this film: it's when Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris got together to form a band called Warsaw and started making up songs. We didn't see this, and it would have been hard to show us anyway. Instead, our first introduction to Warsaw is Ian Curtis walking up to Tony Wilson and calling him a "c---", then those guys getting up on stage and playing "Digital". So I'm left wondering if the actual spark doesn't get enough representation, instead too much being placed on the Sex Pistols.

Still, I was pretty blown away by the first half of the movie, which depicts the aforementioned SP concert and Warsaw gig, Warsaw recording some songs for Factory Records, renaming themselves to Joy Division, playing some shows, etc..

The point at which this movie falls apart, and I hope I'm not giving anything away here, is when Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis kills himself in 1980. Anyway, Joy Division's 45 minutes in this film are a representative of that spark of genius that created Madchester, and are worth watching.

It's the last hour that's not as great. After the suicide, we get the rise of the Hacienda, Happy Mondays, and the eventual fall of Factory Records. While I always can find the antics of Shaun Ryder to be humorous--and I occasionally like listening to the Mondays' music--but the last thing in the world I think of the Happy Mondays is that they represent some great movement in music. Tony, narrating often, explains to us how the Hacienda was never profitable, but was the start of the DJ movement and raves. Of course, many DJs might take a different stance on that claim (Grandmaster Flash comes to mind). Plus, I don't know about you, but I also don't think raves represent anything novel. Maybe I'm too old.

If you couldn't tell from the above, I think this movie takes itself far too seriously. The real problem with the second half of the movie is that while the first half was representing something that was truly genius, you're having one pulled over on you in this second half. Partying and baggy pants are fads, not genius. Half of those bands that I mentioned are derivative either from each other or earlier bands (Stone Roses and Led Zeppelin much?). I say that with the Stone Roses being one of my favorites ever by the way. The most interesting thing you'll take from the second half is wondering how anyone could be so stupid as to give Shaun Ryder $200K to record an album on an island halfway around the world (that cash went up in smoke of all kinds, of course).

Rating: Good/Good -- A GOOD CABLE MOVIE

(Ratings note: each movie is rated as it really was compared to how the filmmaker wanted it to be. Examples:

Good/Good movie: American Beauty
Bad/Good movie: Forrest Gump
Good/Bad movie: Evil Dead 2
Bad/Bad movie: Nothing But Trouble)