Sunday, May 28, 2006

Cannes Overview

Cannes predictions/winners:

Palm D'or Prediction -- Volver; Winner -- The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Runnerup Prediction -- Babel; Winner -- Flandres
Best Director Pred -- Pedro Costa for Colossal Youth or Sofia Coppola; Winner -- Babel
Best Actor Prediction -- Giacomo Rizzo for "The Family Friend" (or Nuri Ceylan for Climates); Winner -- ensemble of Indigenes
Best Actress Prediction -- Lei hao for Summer Palace (seems too irresistible for political reasons, but could also be Penelope Cruz for Volver or Kate Dickie for Red Road); winner -- ensemble of Volver

Here are all the movies I saw at Cannes. And scroll below for adds to my daily diary. (Hey, since I don't own a laptop right now, I have to choose between telling you what movies I've seen or simply going to more movies. I decided to see more movies.)

CANNES MOVIES (updated as of May 30)

The Da Vinci Code *
Summer Palace ** 1/2
The Wind That Shakes The Barley *** 1/2
Poison Friends *
The Page Turner *
Princess ** 1/2
Volver *** or *** 1/2
Boffo! *
The Unforgiven *
7 Virgins ** 1/2 or ***
Dreamgirls preview ***
Red Road ** (but well-directed)
Charlie Says *
Shortbus ** 1/2 (but sweet)
Serambi ** 1/2
Climates ***
Southland Tales *
The Lights of Dusk ** 1/2
World Trade Center preview ** 1/2
Platoon *** 1/2
Il Caimino ** 1/2 or ***
URO ** 1/2
Salvador (w Daniel Bruhl) *
Flanders * 1/2
Babel **
Program de Court Metrages ** (shorts: Jane Campion ** 1/2, Gaspar Noe * 1/2, Francois Ozon *** 1/2, Eugene Green no stars, Monte Hellman *)
The Way I Spent The End Of The World ** 1/2 or ***
Jimbadyne **
The Right of the Weakest *** 1/2
Marie Antoinette **
Suburban Mayhem *
Silk/Guisi no stars (but had to walk out with 20m to go to make another screening)
Azul & Asmar *** 1/2
Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror no stars
The Friend of the Family * 1/2
Days of Glory/Indigenes ***
Redtrieval/Z Odyzesku ** 1/2
2:47 no stars
La California no stars
Lying no stars
Colossal Youth **
The Singer * 1/2
Nouvelle Chance (aka OOh La La) * 1/2
Change of Address ** 1/2
White Palms **
Congorama *** 1/2
Cronica Una Fuga ***
Clerks II **
Transylvania ** 1/2
Election 2 ***
The Boy On The Galloping Horse ***
977 (no rating -- walked out after 40m for goodbye dinner w Stephen at La Pizza)
Cabiria *** 1/2 (reissue of silent classic)
Fast Food Nation * 1/2
The Labyrinth of the Faun *** 1/2

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cannes Day Four

Heading to the first film of the day at 8 in the morning. The church bells are ringing, as if a Quasimodo of Cannes is pulling on the ropes and yelling, "Cinema! Cinema!" Or as my friend put it more simply, we're being called to prayer. The Lumiere is jammed because today is the premiere of Almodovar's Volver. Will this be the year he finally wins the Palm d'Or?

VOLVER *** or *** 1/2
Maybe this will be his year. Almodovar's movie gets solid applause and will be the front runner throughout the festival. Entertaining, satisfying. With Almodovar, crazy events seem quite natural -- ghosts, a dead body in the freezer, Penelope Cruz mopping floors -- it all seems perfectly reasonable. It plays like an old Hollywood movie though without any melodrama, with Cruz in the Joan Crawford role of a movie who has to take care of things when her daughter stabs her dead-beat dad after he tries to rape her. (She's adopted.) Men barely register in this film -- it's all about the women. And Cruz's lovely breasts deserve equal billing with her fine performance: only Almodovar could have come up with the frankly appreciative overhead shot that shows Cruz washing dishes -- the only image in the frame is the sink, the dishes, her hands and those wonderful breasts. Almodovar is a momma's boy in the best sense of the phrase.

Apparently, when Stephen Spielberg was filming "Jaws," the mechanical shark wasn't working and he had to come up with all the mysterious, tension-building shots where the shark attacked but we didn't see it -- the shots that made the film a classic. And if that anecdote is news to you, you might enjoy this supremely superficial documentary in whcih loads of Hollywood players are asked banal questions about the industry. (I had a bet with friends about how long it would take someone to quote William Goldman's truism that in Hollywood nobody knows anything. I lost, because they saved discussion of that uber-quote for its own section at the 60 minute mark.) I swear the filmmakers held a gun to the heads of the people being interviewed and said, "Cliches only! Be superficial or you die!" Bearable (just) because of the film clips, most of which aren't that much more original. There is literally one interesting moment: Morgan Freeman is asked about flops, about when you know it isn't working, and the interviewer brings up "Bonfire of the Vanities." Freeman's head slumps down -- not dramatically or for humorous effect, just because the memory of the movie depresses him. He starts answering in monotones. "Yes." "No." When did they realize it wasn't working? Did they think it was going great during the shoot? Did they realize while it was filming? He finally says, Oh no, we knew almost even before we had begun. The he compares it to a plane crash and how plane crashes are usually due to a series of errors, not one fatal mistake. It's like that, he says.

Now I scurry into this Korean film, which seems to have a gay subtext from what I can tell in advance. A student film which got post-production money to spruce it up for theatrical release, this is the stor of the compulsory military service that all South Korean males go through. Nominally about fitting in, about not being soft on new recruits (who are hazed pretty mildly by the standards of the Russian army, for example). But really the film is about being gay. This is basically unspoken, though our hero has no interest in girls, plays Belle & Sebastian music and is very pretty indeed. Also, his best friend calls him a girl for nagging him. It all has a tragic, '50s aura --the film can't even mention "gay" or have our hero admit it but you know someone is going to die.

Along the main drag, young people are always being paid to carry signs and billboards or sport t-shirts for this or that event. Segways are all over the place as a team of kids roll along the sidewalk with posters promoting screenings. But yo don't expect to see women in full burkas pushing a film. But there they are, carrying signs that say "H'ALAL HARRY: Allah is great and so is this film" and "H'ALAL HARRY: This year's mosque see movie."

7 VIRGINS ** 1/2 or ***
I weary of art films (already?) and decide to take in a market screening of "7 Virgins" which has a nicely suggestive poster that promises it might be Advocate-worthy. (It pictures a young guy front and center with a cute girl in the background on the left and a cute guy in the background on the right. Our hero looks thoughtful, as if trying to make a decision.) Market screenings are an odd bird: obviously my badge is press, but they're not really catering to the press (and some screenings don't allow press at all). But if it's not full (and they rarely are) you can get in. But even though you have a press badge and they know yo're not a market person, they invariably request a business card. If they don't get a business card, they are deeply reluctant to let you in. So I learned to carry around a stack of cards for each screening and have them at the ready. The movie itself is surprisingly good, well-done, though familiar territory. Young man in juvenile detention gets weekend leave to attend brother's wedding -- spends weekend with pals and they casually rip off purses at the mall, hotwire cars, make shady deals, get in fights, etc. The two male leads are very personable, thogh the movie interestingly has his friend practically rape a girl they pick up at a bar -- lowering himself in our hero's eyes but without undercutting their essential likability. (It doesn't make his buddy the bad guy, though obviously it could have.) Clearly, if they'd been brought up in better circumstances, they'd be safely middle class and successful. Doomed ending can be seen a mile away but the movie takes a few good detours before going where we know it needs to go.


Oh, how I hate "events." They invariably take up hours of your time in the middle of the day when you could be seeing movies. But I "have" to attend "Dreamgirls." It takes place from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. but I've figured out nothing wil happen until at least 9 p.m. and I certainly don't want to stand around alone having a drink. So I show up at 9 p.m. at the hotel to find a mob scene: hundreds of people are blocking the streets in all directions and screaming "Beyonce! Beyonce!" I've arrived just as she is walking past the dozens of photographers and TV crews there to glimpse Jamie Foxx, the other cast members and especially Beyonce. People are screaming and the hotel is blocked off by mobs in every direction. I don't know how Beyonce is going to get in but I know I certainly won't. I circle around in a few directions waving my Dreamgirls pass to no avail. Finally I spot a clutch (a pride? a flock?) of journalists also striving to get in, including Roger Ebert. He walks up to the guard blocking one quiet side entrance and tries to talk our way in. "No. No, no, no." Go back the other way. We've just been the other way and they sent us to you. We have to get in. Finally, Ebert says half jokingly, "I am a famous person!" The guard doesn't care and we spend ten minutes wandering around until Beyonce goes inside and the crowd thins out dramatically. Finally inside where they have a room filled with people drinking and looking at costumes, set mockups etc before the press conference starts. Director Bill Condon makes some opening remarks -- with cast and crew and Paramount members applauding wildly every name --including Michael Bennett and the composer. This could take days. Finally we see four clips -- about 20 minutes. The first is the song "Fake Your Way To The Top," with Eddie Murphy as a James Brown-like impresario. It's very, very encouraging. This is a bright, unabashed musical. The transition from their rehearsal to the on-stage performance is great fun and the cast is sensational. Beyonce, American Idol find Jennifer Hudson (who is probably thanking God she didn't win or at least should be), Anika Noni Rose (who was tremendous in Broadway's "Caroline, or Change" and looks like she'll be a scene-stealer here) -- they all look perfect. That's followed by "Family" (Perhaps my least favorite song on the cast album but still well delivered), "When I First Saw You" and "Dreamgirls." All are good to great. Some changes that they mention: there's a lot more book, they've added a (hopefully small) subplot about a Jackson Five-like group, Dina goes into the movies big-time and there are four new songs written or co-written by the original remaining composer. Jamie Foxx comes onstage, does a funny Eddie Murphy impersonation and says "They talk about the Oscar curse. I'm not feeling it right now." Neither am I. Looks like great fun and very commercial. If preteens are wathcing and re-watching "High School Musical," there's no reason everyone can't embrace this.

A British entry by a female director with an interesting backstory. She won the Oscar for the short "Wasp" and makes her feature film debut. It was given a slot at Director's Fortnight (a technically separate event a la Slamdance). Then Cannes offered her Un Certain Regard, which I like to call Uncertain Regard since they want to show your movie but don't want to put it into Competition. They politely delcined to abandon the DF for that and finally the Fest offers a Competition slot and they say "Bye bye DF." "It's an interesting, sometimes compelling but ultimately unsatisfactory film -- mostly for plot reasons it would be unfair to reveal. The screenplay is based on a Dogma stunt of developing a group of characters and having three different films emply them with the same actors in all three films, but entirely different stories. The lead in one film might have one line or a substantial supporting role in another, etc. This tale focuses on a woman who works for the police studying CCTV cameras which dot London. She spots a man she clearly never expected to see and it turns out he's just been released from jail and she -- for some reason -- is obsessed with him. Her sad and lonely life becomes clearer as she starts to stalk him (something that wouldn't seem that strange for a person who spies on people all day long). She's estranged from her in-laws and sleeps at night with a funeral urn. This isn't quite as odd a movie as that makes it sound and the lead is very good. But the entire tension of the film is based on withholding information from us that everyone onscreen knows about. So it invariably seems deflating when we're finally put in the know and the movie resovles itself rather banally. But the director Andrea Arnold and the lead Kate Dickie are clearly talents to watch.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cannes Day Three

Quote of the day:

Ian McKellen at "The Da Vinco Code" press conference --"I'm very happy to believe Jesus was married. I know the Catholic Church has problems with gay people and I thought this was absolutely proof that Jesus was not gay."

The Wind That Shakes The Barley *** 1/2
(Lumiere Theatre)
The first terrific film of the festival; received strong applause at the finale, especially for a film showing this early in the fest. It's a clear-eyed and very sad look at Ireland in the 20s when the Irish voted for independence, fought against the British troops but then its politicians signed a peace treaty that made no one happy and led to the partition and Irish killing Irish. Cillian Murphy is a young man heading off to London to work in a hospital. His brother Teddy is a fiery leader of the rebellion/resistance. We see the casual abuse and bullying by British troops (almost inevitable in such a situation). Cillian's train is delayed when the driver refuses to transport British soldiers and is beaten up. Cillian just can't leave and he joins up. We see their training, their fighting, ambushes, violence -- none of it is stirring or exciting; just necessary and brutal. One poor Irish lad reveals the location of rebels after the British threaten his mother and sister. Cillian is ordered to execute him in one of several very powerful scenes. It's simple, direct, dreadful. When the treaty is signed, Cillian's brother unexpectedly dons the uniform of the Irish. The endless debates about what to do, friends and lovers fighting over compromise versus brutal all-out war -- the film doesn't really take sides (though it's hardly in sympathy with the British; how could it be?). The movie just shows it and shakes its head sadly. At the end of the film, there is thankfully no scroll about what's happened since. it doesn't have the heart to detail 80 more years of misery.

My Bloody Phone -- so it's more than two days and I still can't place an international call, putting a bit of a crimp into my work. I head back to the FNAC store where the same young man deals with 17 customers at a time in the phone section. I catch him at a down moment though within two minutes five or six more people want attention immediately and he shrugs them off in the Gallic manner. He tries to wave me off, saying international calls can take days to activate but I make him listen to the message I get when I try. He looks puzzled and then looks up the purchase from before. "Someone" made a mistake when they registered your name, he tells me. He of course was the person who made the mistake but I say nothing. He apologizes, goes through the procedure again and says it will take the usual day for the order to take effect. I shrug my shoulders in the Gallic manner and we're both satisfied.

Movie Poster #1

Knock Knock
"Answering the door will never be the same."

Movie News

Philip Kaufman -- who had one of the best one-two punches in cinema history when he followed "The Right Stuff" with "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" -- has a very promising new project called "Challenger." It's about the NASA investigation into the Challenger shuttle explosion and at the center is the intriguing figure of Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was a key figure. (He's a terrific writer -- start with "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.")

The Weinsteins are making a $20 mil biopic about Alexander Graham Bell and his "romance" of a 16 year old girl. So apparently he followed the invention of the telephone very quickly with the invention of phone sex.

Poison Friends *
(Espace Miramar)
I've rarely if ever been to a movie that's playing in Critic's Week. But I was tricked by a suggestive film description into checking out their opening film. It's a dull French movie about two college students who circle around their friend, who is supposed to be brilliant and magnetic but is really just a jerk. He bulies his friends around wiht his opinions and bold manner. When one of them refuses sugar with their coffee, he mocks them. Coffee without sugar isn't coffee. Much later, when we see him drinking coffee without sugar, oh what a blow it is to our hero. he feels let-down. Of course, he lets down the jerk by writing a novel. (Almost no one deserves to write.) Never mind that he throws the novel out. His world-famous writer of a mother digs it out of the trash, sends it in, gets it published and try as he might the young man can't seem to stop it from happening. The book, naturally, wins awards. Meanwhile, the jerk's life spirals out of control. If we had stayed with him and watched his meltdown as the lies catch up and he proves incapable of doing anything more than holding forth grandly during late-night gabfests, the film might have been interesting. (The scene where he slaps his mentor and professor is the one notable scene of the film.) But it meanders through the lives of his friends, who all find success as easily as he found failure. We don't like him and we like them even less for following him.

Sad Poster Of The Day:

C. Thomas Howell was a big star. Lance Henriksen had his own TV show. ("Millenium.") It's a shame to see them reduced to schlock like --

"The Da Vinci Code Treasure"
"The secret to the world's greatest treasure...lies within history's most precious artifact."

In case we don't get the book and movie they're trying to piggyback on, the poster includes a massive reproduction of the Mona Lisa (about 100 times its real size) with the dead body of a woman lying in front. Why not just call it "The Da Vinci Ripoff" and be done with it?

The Page Turner * 1/2

Usually, on the first full day everyone is gung-ho and determined to see as many as movies as possible. (They weaken quickly.) So this screening should have been tricky for me. But apparently the still for the film -- a shot of a young woman turning the pages for a concert pianist -- and the remarkably dry one-sentence description drove everyone away. Terribly French, it begins with a little girl who studies classical piano preparing for a major audition. During the event, a famous female classical pianist signs an autograph, throwing the girl off. It's absurd that the woman would have done this, but the girl will have to deal with a lot more distractions than that if she ever performs in public. Nonetheless, she vows never to play the piano again. And apparently she vows revenge, though we're not told this since that's the only tension the movie can possibly offer. Some ten years later, the girl interns at the law office of the pianist's husband, gets hired as a nanny/cook for a month, and becomes the woman's trusted page turner for a comeback concert. (She has been nervous and fragile ever since a mysterious hit and run accident three years earlier. Hmmm.) The girl also prods their son into pushing his piano skills, presumably to give him an injury that will debilitate the lad forever. All we wonder is whether she really wants revenge and how and when she'll get it. The one unexpected angle is that she emotionally seduces the pianist, who becomes utterly dependant on the girl and is clearly attracted to her. In case we miss the point, when the girl kisses her on the cheek at a key moment, there is a bizarre, extended use of slow motion just to drive the point home. I hope none of this sounds interesting, because it wasn't. I wish she'd actually slept with the woman and the husband (and the son for good measure) and then laughed in their face with a vile cackle. As it is, when the pianist is asked for her autograph after a concert (or cruel world, to throw that action in the girl's face), she's become such a monster I'm half surprised she didn't draw out a knife and stab the fan for asking. Actually, that would have been more fun too.

Second quote of the day:

Helena Bonham Carter about being on the jury: "It's fun because people tend to suck up to you. I'm not sure how good I'll be at it. On the whole, my movie taste is pretty bad."

Uh, then why did you agree to serve on the jury at Cannes?

More Movie News:

I know Sylvester Stallone has resurrected the Rocky franchise with Milo Ventimiglia of "Gilmore Girls" as the new young turk. (How can he possibly be convincing as a boxer?) But I didn't know Stallone was seriously pursuing Rambo. But there's the movie poster for "Rambo IV" with Stallone glowering and that massive knife taking uphalf the page.

Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood are starring in the movie, "King of California." I assumed when I first saw the poster that they'd be playing lovers, even though he's 61 and she's 19. This is Hollywood, after all. But happily, they're playing father and daughter.

And for the first time in movie history, an actor has been penalized for sleeping with a woman he wasn't married to. The Aussie film "Ten Canoes" is the first to be filmed in the indigenous language of its aboriginal peoples. (Don't ask me which tribe.) Well-known (to them) indigenous actor David Gulpilil was supposed to co-direct the movie. But he broke tribal law by sleeping with a woman he wasn't supposed to and had to leave the territory.

I Act In A Movie

My friend Zahi from Israel returns to Cannes for the first time since we met at the fest in 2000. He had a camera with him that time. This time he returns with a crew (a cameraman and a female friend). They're filming this and that and the other thing, with Zahi (who has made national political ads back home) always looking to make contacts, see movies and hopefully meet his idol Steven Spielberg. He brings me a gift of a leather notebook that's initialized, which is nice but even better is the attached card. He didn't have time to fill it out so it's blank. That means I can just imagine all the friendly wonderful things he might have said about me and fill it in later. So then he grabs the card and writes at the bottom, "Yours, Zahi." Oh the possibilities. "Michael, you are the most talented person I know..." "Michael, I want you to have 10% first dollar gross on my first feature film to be released in America..."

Princess ***
(Noga Hilton)

The opening night for the Director's Fortnight. it begins with a lengthy chat by the head of DF, who almost fell down coming past me on the side aisle towards the stage. The translator is truly terrible -- she keeps apologizing and clearly missing 90% of what everyone says. (The man gets all sorts of laughs and sighs and even a hoot but none of it comes across for us.) David Cronenberg is given a special award (some of his films will be shown in a retrospective) and after many lengthy speeches, he wins our heart by saying, "Because I love cinema, I'm going to stop speaking so we can see this movie."

It's an interesting, mostly animated movie about a bad-ass ex-priest who takes charge of the five year old daughter left behind when his porn star sister dies. he is aghast that the little girtl mimicks her mom's dancing and crass porn star language. But then he takes her on a violent, vengeful crusade to destroy all the pornographic images of her mother, even encouraging the kid to chime in with the occasional bodyblow to one of the scum that molested the kid. Boundaries, buddy, boundaries. There is live action footage whenever we see video footage from her career, home movies, shots of their parents right before a terrible car crash, which makes for an interesting effect. The movie wouldn't work as lvie action: it would have been too grim or just ludicrous. But as animation, it fits in perfectly with the hyper-violent world of the manga. And the occasional use of live action footage gives it an emotional realism it might have otherwise lacked. falters a bit at the end but then rescued again at the finale. Though I certainly didn't expect the final music cue to be a Shaker tune.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Movie taglines of the Day

One of my favorite past-times is leafing through the trades and the hundreds of ads for schlocky movies that will never be seen in the US. Through a combination of desperation and poor English, movie producers and publicists manage to come up with some hilarious movie titles and taglines. Here are some of the best from the first batch of ads:

(Actually, this will come to the US since it's by the director of "Oldboy.")

"The Never Changing Hero! Our Gramera!"
(picture a giant turtle for this Japanese entry)

"Those who have loved or are loved will not walk in darkness." -- Plato

(Surely it's the only movie in history to use a quote from Plato as its tagline. But is it Plato? Sure doesn't sound like him and it does echo certain Biblical passages. Did they use an actual quote from Plato or just make it up?)

"Is she a one-nighter or is she his daughter?"

The most explanatory tagline:

"Four supernaturally powered young men must fight to save the city of Tapei from disappearing forever in a devastating typhoon summoned by a vengeful demon."

And the most unnecessary:

"A romantic love story set in the bustle of a large Asian city, namely Shanghai."

Trade Tidbits, Wandering Around

I head over to the American Pavilion. I've never even walked in there before, but a persistent email prompted me to register and see what they had to offer. Guarding the door was a gang of teenagers -- maybe high school, maybe college. They're all wearing green t-shirts and direct you where to go en masse. Imagine getting to come to Cannes when you're in high school or just in college. What a blast.

Woody Allen's next movie is going to be made in London again. The trades say it was scheduled to be shot in Paris; I remember it being Spain. In any case, it will cost $20.8 million, stars Ewan mcGregor and Colin Farrel and Tom Wilkinson and is described as "Match Point" meets Hitchcok, which is a tad redundant, isn't it?

Ian McKellen will be doing King Lear next year in London, presumably at the National. I still bitterly regret missing Ian Holm's Lear. I had tickets but spent the day with author Philip Pullman in Oxford and it took too long to get back to London. The happyb result: I stumbled on really cheap tickets to see Blue Nile in concert -- a band that almost never performs in concert, so the rarity of it almost made up for missing Holm.

Cannes organizers chose from 1520 movies to find some 50 films being shown in and out of competition. (Thousands of movies are screened one way or another at the market, the Director's Fortnight and so on.)

And the "Carry On..." films, which are namechecked in Alan Bennett's marvelously fun play "The History Boys, continue with film #32 set to be "Carry On London." They'v been making these flicks since 1958 and they never got around to "Carry On London" till now?

"Summer Palace" -- The Popsurfing Review

** 1/2
This Chinese film came to Cannes without the official approval of the Chinese censors. That's hardly a surprise. What is a surprise is the fact that they signed off on the script in the first place. This sexually explicit film features students protesting at Tiananmen Square in 1989, frontal nudity of both men and women, a great big dose of Western ennui and after the massacre by the government it shows one disconsolate student shouting out "Fucking bastards!" before collapsing into tears. The story focuses on one girl's journey from a small-ish town to Beijing university. She has sex with her cute local boyfriend before leaving him behind. And University quickly transforms her into a relatively worldly girl. Im always amazed by the small details of life in countries like China -- the students read by candlelight and have no indoor plumbing. (At one point, our heroine pulls out a small bowl and squats in the corner to go to the bathrom while her roommate continues to practice her music a few feet away.) She falls for another student who we're told is her soulmate, though it's hard to know why since we rarely see them do much at first except have sex. One very erotic scene shows them climaxing. He stays on top of her as they giggle over a silly moment, they playfully laugh and then suddenly get very serious again and he starts making love until they climax again -- all in one take and very believable. her metamorphosis is very convincing and magnetic. Politics appear, but meetings and rallies are just an excuse for the girl to make her boyfriend jealous. he cheats on her; she sleeps with a teacher. They break up; they get back together. Tiananmen Square is quite moving -- not just because of what happens but because of the exciting sense of the Chinese themselves actually depicting it onscreen. The tanks and the gunshots are offscreen. To this point -- maybe half way through -- the movie has been focused and involving. Suddenly, in walks melodrama. This friend moves to Germany. That friend moves to another province. The Berlin Wall falls. Gorbachev. None of this reverberates as politics are ignored for sexual politics. Our heroine stops being interesting, really, since all she does is have sex with men and then break their hearts and walk on. The lead is very good but she can only do so much. Her one-time boyfriend gets married; she gets married (though we never see her husband). A mutual friend kills themself in a plot twist that puts the movie into melodrama for good. And after following these people for almost 15 years, from 1987 to about 2001 or 2002, the movie even rather bizarrely ends with an update on where they are now. Heck, it's only been about two years. Are we really so desperate after following fifteen years of their lives to know what happened last week? In short, it's a breakthrough for Chinese cinema the explicit sexuality and frontal nudity, but the most shocking moment of all was when that heart-broken revolutionary cursed his government. Fucking bastards, indeed.

Cannes Day Two

Our apartment is close enough to a nearby hotel to pick up their WiFi connection for free. Why didn't I borrow my sister's laptop so I could blog all day long? But our gift basket was a more enjoyable surprise: it contains sucre packets trademarked Daddy. That's right. Sugar Daddy. And it also contains some madeleines, which remind me of something but I can't remember what. My friend Zahi -- who I met at my first Cannes -- arrives today but we're having trouble connecting because of my silly phone, which can't make international calls yet. Mon dieu.

The Da Vinci Code: The Popsurfing Review

The Da Vinci Code -- *
World Premiere
Cannes Film Festival
Debussy Theatre

I've just seen the godless "Da Vinci Code" and you'd think the Devil would have made a more entertaining movie. As fellow Cannes-goer Mike D'Angelo put it, the book is such a phenomenon that the movie can't help but be a big hit. Everyone's either read the book or heard of it so everyone will see it. No one will like it -- not the people who read the book and certainly not the people who haven't read the book. But it will all happen too fast for word of mouth to have any effect. (No wonder they're opening it on 11,600 screens around the world.)

Here are my first notes: Badly done and very silly. People enjoy the novel because it's silly and a page-turner and they get to pretend they've learned reading James Michener. ("Did you know Hawaii...?") But the movie is confusing and flits by so quickly you're just lost. They don't even explain what the Fibonacci Sequence is. (That's the sequence where each number is the product of the two previous numbers -- hence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 and so on.) And obviously Ron Howard and Akiva were petrified by the idea of people standing around and talking. Never mind that the book includes a lot of fun talk (wild conspiracy theories, salacious historical tidbits, etc.). Never mind that the book is also a country-spanning adventure with multiple murders, an albino assassin who self-flagellates himself, guns, poison, narrow escapes and so on. Despite all of that, they panicked over the thought of Hanks delivering a lecture, so every time he makes any historical reference, we get a black and white flashback to that event. If Hanks mentions the Crusades, we get a glimpse of knights laying seige to castles, with blood flowing and swords flying. If he mentions the slaughter of the Templar Knights by the Pope, we see the blade go in. In fact, the movie is filled with unnecessary flashbacks. Did we really need to see the backstory of the albino assassin? (Mind you, Paul Bettany could bring a lot of new members to Opus Dei.) And I defy anyone who hasn't read the book to explain what the albino's flashbacks were about. If most viewers are gonna be puzzled, why include it? That goes doouble for the Vatican intrigue, which is poorly explained. No one who hasn't read the book (and that's about six billion minus 45 million) will have a clue as to the power sturggles going on. Finally, Cannes traditionally has a terrific sound system, but I wondered if my seat was a problem. I had a great deal of trouble understanding Audrey Tatou -- I had to keep checking the French subtitles and translate those BACK into English to keep on track. Obviously, American audiences won't have that option. And other people had the same complaint. At the jaw-dropping moment of revelation, the audience actually giggled. Sure, they're cynical godless journalists, but I'll bet the same thing happens for a general audience. it's one thing to read it in a book. It's quite another to hear it laid out so bluntly. Howard does everything to soften the book's religious comments. The godless Robert Langdon is even seen sort of kneeling in prayer at the last moment, which certainly goes against the tenor of the book. This is one of those movies -- like the last three Star wars films -- that everyone will see but no one will like.

SPOILER: And the Church just looks silly for complaining and warning people against it. For heaven's sake, didn't they read the book? The Church IS NOT THE BAD GUY. One renegade bishop doesn't besmirch the Church's name and in fact the Pope and the Cardinals are depicted repeatedly as genuinely religious men.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Radar Lives

The magazine Radar rivals the TV show "Commander In Chief" for being one of the strangest media stories in years. Maer helped turn Talk around just as it was shit down for unrelated reasons. Then he launched Radar but it took ages and didn't have the backing it needed for him to fine tune it. Then he launched it again. Then again. And now he's delivering a strictly online version (which is cheap and makes sense when you think about what Radar does best) but still hopes for a print version soon. Truly an epic tale. I hope he's keeping a diary. It'll make a fun book.

Grey's Anatomy Moves To Thursday

Okay, I just can't do regular blogging the next two weeks. But ABC is moving "Grey's Anatomy to Thursday at 9 p.m. to anchor a night of otherwise entirely new programming. Everyone expected them to move it to Monday. Clearly, they're not making a move on that night since "What About Brian" has been renewed for the 10 p.m. slot. Besides, Thursday is the most lucrative night on TV so it makes sense to move their hottest show there.

Tony Award Predictions

Here are the Tony Award nominations. The most notable ommission is Cherry Jones for Faith Healer, probably because people couldn't agree on whether she shuold be a lead or supporting. (The Tonys said supporting, but if you thought she should be a lead, you might be disinclined to give her your vote, however good you thought she was.)Here are my predictions:

Best Play -- The History Boys (but what a great year for plays)
Best Musical -- Jersey Boys (lots of love for The Drowsy Chaperone, but Jersey Boys is a sure bet on tour and that's the biggest block of voters. After feeling suckered by Avenue Q, they're not gonna support the perhaps Broadway-only appeal of Drowsy.)
Best Book of a Musical -- Consolation prize for Drowsy, though Marshall Brickman may steal it for Jersey)
Best Score -- Drowsy Chaperone
Best Revival, Play -- Faith Healer
Best Revival, Musical -- The Pajama Game
Best Actor, Play -- Richard Griffiths (History Boys)
BestActress, Play -- Cynthia Nixon (Rabbit Hole)
Best Actor, Musical -- Harry Connick Jr. (Pajama Game)
Best Actress Musical -- Sutton Foster (Drowsy)
Best Featured Actor, Play -- Ian McDiarmid (Faith - though my heart belongs to Samuel Barnett for History)
Best Featured Actress, Play -- Frances De La Tour (History -- but that's just my hope; toughest category to call and I haven't seen Tyne Daly in Rabbit Hole or Zoe Wanamaker in Awake and Sing; either one could take it)
Best Featured Actor, Musical -- Manoel Felciano (Sweeney Todd, though Jim Dale in Threepenny could be the winner)
Best Featured Actress, Musical -- no idea; let me get back to you
Best Director, Play -- Nicholas Hytner (History)
Best Director, Musical -- Kathleen Marshall (Pajama)

Cannes Day One

Stephen arrives an hour early and wakes me 11:10 a.m. There goes my plan to get up at 8 a.m. and prepare for doing that for the next two weeks. I have a wound on my face right by my nose -- that must have been a restless sleep indeed. We wander around, getting our badges and bags, checking out the press room, going to FNAC and getting our mobile phone sim cards, some extra keys for the apartment and so on. Stephen is getting married and talks about the odd feeling of registering for gifts -- basically you go to Bloomingdales or Tiffany's or whatever and they give you a "zap gun." You take it and wander around the store and zap the UPC code of anthing you like. Like most men, Stephen feels very odd about telling people what you want them to buy. Like most women, his fiance doesn't think twice. He also talks about Wayne-Williams, a Manhattan store that is "super preppie" with really odd items that you won't find anywhere else. When they go to register there, there is no zap gun. Most items don't even have UPC codes. A little old lady follows them around, writing down the items they like in longhand in a little book. Very preppie indeed. And as we're walking home, Stephen points out his favorite store at Cannes. Now it's my favorite too. It's called:

Yes, it's a store with weapons, cutlery and accessories for dogs. Clearly these are the three passions of the owners. Inside you can find rows and rows of scissors (very sharp scissors, I imagine), forks, spoons, many many knives, a wall of swords, some ancient rifles and yes, dog collars and pet toys for your mutt. Presumaby hunting dogs are the most prized of all. Surely no other store in the world has quite this combination of items. Tonight: The Da Vinci Code, which is 2 and a half hours, or to put it another way, half an hour longer than it should be. I point out to Stephen my thought of the affinity between "A Beautiful Mind" and "Da Vinci Code." Both have to illustrate abstract thought and mathematical formula and I think they'd be very wise to use the same approach of numbers and letters floating onscreen and lighting up and rearranging when the code is broken or an insight is made.

Monday, May 15, 2006


All day on the train from Waterloo to Cannes. Must remember to get Euros beforehand next time since the train cafe doesn't take pounds or credit cards. Barely got any sleep the night before, but I am up like a shot at 510 a.m. and out the door at 6. The first leg to Lilles I spend trapped in my seat. Normally I'd go to the dining car, but the woman next to me falls asleep IMMEDIATELY. (I swear she was asleep before the train pulled out of the station.) And I didn't have the heart to wake her. Besides, I'd purchased two newspapers, water, a croissant, and a pastry of some sort to tide me over. So it was cramped but passed quickly. Two hours. The second train was 7 hours and I spent every moment (as always)in the "dining car." Just a few awful, expensive items and three little stools. Most of the area is just for standing while you scarf down an espresso. I like it because people are coming in and out, so there's plenty to see while I'm reading and it's easy to stretch every once in a while. The girl at the counter works almost non-stop and smiles at me even though I buy nothing. (No Euros.) Five or six hours into it, a pretty good looking young guy with a wedding ring is hanging out. Black pants, black and white shirt. When we make a stop, she stands by the door outside to chat with people. The young guy walks towards the "register" (a calculator, really) and leans over to grab a napkin and then goes into the next car. When the train pulls out and the girl serves her next customer, she shouts out "Merde!" and other words. The kid had robbed her. I said I noticed nothing when security asked because clearly the kid got off at the last station, so it served no purpose and I was embarrassed I'd said nothing before. I spend the day reading a book.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser *** -- Much better than I expected. I thought it would be a glib "you're all fat" sort of book, or boringly pseudo-philosphical with a broad social perspective a al No Logos. Or like the movie Super Size Me, where you get the whole point in five minutes. In fact, it's serious muckraking a la Upton Sinclair. I didn't realize Schlosser had written for The Atlantic Monthly or I would have read it sooner. He focuses in on the horrible conditions (both sanitary and safety) at the meat-packing plants where McDonald's gets most of its food. One third of the employees at some of the main ones are injured every year -- and injured is defined as something that can't be dealt with by a first aid kit, ie they need to see a doctor or go to the emergency room. Constant breaking of labor laws with teens in state after state -- and why this isn't something minor that should be ignored.Busting unions. Destroying small farmer. Also a colorful history of the fast food restaurant and the colorful people who built them. Hard on Republicans, but an afterword is hard on Clinton and his relationship with Tyson foods. Quite stomach-churning at places and I can't fathom going to a fast food place for at least a day or two. The movie surely will focus in on a meat-packing plant.

I have a lavish dinner by my standards -- steak and frites with chocolate mousse and cafe americain while reading my next book, a biography of Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser, the best-selling author who is married to Harold Pinter. Both books, of course, have been adapted into movies at Cannes. The apartment is just past the McDonald's on Rue Negrin. Two restaurants on this side street but not as noisy as the cafes and bars at the last two apartments. A bit farter away from the Palais then our last place and of course we'll have to go PAST it to get our morning newspapers. Mon dieu! The bathtub is very deep and commodious. I even get bored waiting to fill it up all the way, which never happens.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

London Day Three

Working in Leslie's office on her website, plus answering email. And yes, more games. We go to her local church, where the lead priest has a very nice, typically British style -- erudite and apologizing for the lack of a reader. He's sure we'll get bored listening to the same voice the entire mass. No music which is blessed; it means the mass is a good ten minutes shorter. Then the priest apologizes for his sermon; again, we have to listen to his voice and really, nothing he says is important, we can feel free to nod off or perhaps read the church newsletter. Perhaps we'll find something useful in there. Then he proceeds to deliver a lovely sermon, quoting EM Forster among others. During communion, another priest pops up whom I guess rightly is the one Leslie has befriended. (They went to a play together.) He has a very off-hand manner when giving communion. Doesn't look up, mumblers "Body of Christ." When he gets to me (I look rather slovenly or perhaps he just realizes this is someone new), he gives a slight peek at me before keeping his eyes downcast again. At the end of mass, the priest apologizes AGAIN when reading the notices for the week. During mass, a young man is sitting about three rows past us on the side aisle, with empty pews before and after him. Five or eight minutes into the mass, an old man comes in and sits in the same short pew on the other end. Young man looks up but makes no nod of recognition. I think how odd. Why would the old man sit there? At one point, the old man puts his arm across the pew, which is almost touching the young man's shoulder. Then at the end of the mass they go up the side aisle and out a side door (leading to the rectory?) together. Very odd. I mention them and Leslie says she's been watching them for years. The old man always shows up late and they always leave together. She has three theories. One, the young man is his gay son and the son is estranged from the mother. This is the only time each week the old man can spend with the guy (who is late 20s or 30s; old man is 60s or older). He goes to mass with wife and then comes again with son. Two, Leslie thinks they're gay lovers. Three, Leslie thinks they're spies, passing information. According to the younger priest, this Church was famous for spies (presumably German) coming here to pass off info to one another. Back home for more games.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

London Day Two

At every turn, games. Gin. Cribbage. Backgammon. Repeat. Leslie is slightly edging me in total victories but we basically even. Off to the National at 2 p.m. to see a revival of Peter Shaffer's "Royal Hunt of the Sun." Leslie and I indulge in our never-ending argument about whether it's quicker to take the tube or the bus. She won't just admit that she hates the tube; she also has to argue that the bus is quicker, which 90% of the time it is most assuredly not. We take the bus and it CRAWLS through Picadilly Circus. People on foot are walking past us. Old people on foot are wlaking past us. Leslie insists the bus is much classier, even though an old lade with sores on her leg (and a bandage covering them) has her feet up right near us and squawking away about how the sores hurt. At night, of course, the buses are filled with drunks, but Leslie is never on the bus late at night. We get off the bus near Charing Cross and have to RUN the entire way. The lead Alun Armstrong is out with a sore throat but he performed last night. I switch the tickets for the evening performance (hoping he just took off the matinee) and our seats are even closer (third row almost center) and still just 10 pounds. To her credit, Leslie doesn't blink or suggest we go anyway. We RUN to the Globe, where the first season without Mark Rylance is just beginning. Leslie refuses to stand, even though it's great fun and only 5 pounds. (I'd pay extra to stand; you're right in front of the stage and have unique, wonderful views.) I check the top ticket price of 31 pounds and front row (in the seats at the back of the Globe, which is mostly standing and then three tiers of seats along the round wall). Leslie won't let me check the next lowest price and just buys them. We're seeing Coriolanus, with Jonathan Cake. It'as directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the new artistic director. Lots of fun, if not complex. Coriolanus is a bit of a pill, rather proud and rudely disdainful of the crowd. The show must be a favorite of dictators. The woman playing his mother has the most fun and it's all energetic, with some nice supporting turns. But of course, they make abundant use of the Groundlings. Two ramps lead into the standing room area and many entrances come from there. Actors also stand in the crowd and mill around repeatedly. Cake goes among the crowd when halfheartedly trying to win the people's support for him to enter council. And when he's stabbed in the back, Coriolanus falls into the crowd, absolutely astonishing a woman in the front who doesn't realize two actors are planted there to catch him. They rip out his heart and the cast pulls a shroud over the entire Groundling area. And then they dance. (A traditional end to a night at the theater and one the Globe wisely continues.) If ever you wanted to be in the standing area, this was the show. ** 1/2 our of four.

Then it's 5 p.m. and the next play begins at 7:30 p.m. Instead of just grabbing a bite and perhaps going into the Tate Modern and having a relaxing stroll around, Leslie insists we go home, grab a bite to eat, play a game and then RUN back, this time by taxi since we'd never make it otherwise. We can both agree the taxi can be quickest of all, depending on which theater you want to go to. Leslie always insists every cabbie in London is independently wealthy, with a second home in Spain and always just coming back from vacation, usually to Disney World in Florida. Our cabbie does in fact have a little place. Though not in Spain, Leslie insists it's a very posh place. He spends most of his time chatting amiably about how hard it is to make any money with petrol and the new rules and how you have to work six days a week or seven and share the cost of the cab with someone else. Leslie hears none of this; all she knows is that cabbies are super-wealthy and it's absurd to tip them.

Royal Hunt of the Sun -- *** out of four. I can see why others might have been bored by it. But a competent, decently done show for 10 pounds is a joy forever. I'd have to go to a lot of shows for many years before I got bored by that. It's all about Francisco Pizarro conquering the Incas. Their leader, who styles himself a god, promises to fill a massive room with gold in exchange for his freedom. Pizarro agrees, knowing it will be impossible to do. The room is filled and now Pizarro has to decide whether to break his word and free the Incan, whom he naturally has come to like very much. (Even if he hadn't given his word, wouldn't he feel bad about killing someone who has become his friend.) The Incan makes clear he made no guarantee of freedom for Pizarro's men and has every plan to slaughter them (160+) because they massacred 3000 of his attendants who were unarmed and came with the Incan to greet Pizarro. In among all of this are some typical religious debates, along with a scene of Pizarro dancing with the Incan that made me think of "the King and I." Good intelligent fare, with about 30 to 40 people onstage. Armstrong was good as Pizarro. It's the sort of show that would never be revived in New York (who could afford to do it?) so I'm very glad to have seen it. Back home to more games.

Friday, May 12, 2006

London Day One

Utterrly tired from my flight. No sleep. I stumble around my sister Leslie's flat, talking on the phone and trying to drum up some free theater tickets or at least good seats. On the flight over I finish The Da Vinci Code. (** 1/2 out of 4). I can't tell you the really absurd part of the book without spoling the finale. But trily the controversy is silly. The spoiler is at the bottom and clearly marked so skip it if you want to see the movie first.

I'm getting really sleepy around 2:30 p.m. so I decide to wander around a bit. I'll get a drink, maybe step into Hatchard's (a wonderful book store) for a minute and then walk to Wyndham's Theater where the revivial of Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George begins previews tomorrow. Their phone has been busy all day and I really do need tickets to that one.

I only get as far as Hatchard's. Bookstores are like black holes to me, or more accurately time machines, my own personal TARDIS. I step in, browse around for a minute, pick up a few books so I don't run out of reading while I'm in Cannes (the local English bookshop charges exorbitant prices) and as I'm at the counter paying I casually ask the man what time it is and he says 7 p.m. Good Lord. I rush home and Leslie has been there for an hour or so waiting. More games.


Don'r read on if you don't want to know the entire plot. In "Angels & Demons," there was a renegade priest, by Dan Brown went out of his way to depict most of the cardinals as peacful, loving men who wouldn't resort to assassination (four top cardinals were burtally murdered by the Illuminati -- we thought) for any reason. And it turned out that the Pope (who himself was murdered before the book began) was very liberal and loved science, which is what drove the renegade priest mad. In short, murdered Pope and most cardinals good; one wacko bad.

Now in "The Da Vinci Code" we are squaring off against Opus Dei. Laughably, the real villain isn't Opus Dei or even the Vatican: it's only a renegade Opus Dei bishop and his albino ward who themselves are suckered in by an atheistic baddie who wants to destroy the Church. Again, Brown goes out of his way to show most of the faithful as genuinely religious, he depicts the new Pope as very liberal and he even takes the time to present a reasonable broad brushstroke depiction of the complaints and thoughts of the real Opus Dei. Mind you, Opus Dei doesn't come off well -- the book indulges the liberal fantasy that the new Pope would send them and their billions of dollars packing. (I could only wish.) The book overall is less ludicrous than "Angels & Demons" but only just. Still numerous silly, clunky bits of dialogue. But it would be churlish of me to pretend I wasn't page-turning there for a bit.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Popsurfing In Europe

Okay, look for much less blogging from now through June 5. However, it will be more exotic. I'll be blogging from London and then the Cannes Film Festival, whch runs from May 17 through May 28. Much of the time, I won't have regular access to a computer and I'll also be terribly busy. I anticipate a daily posting updating the movies and theater I'm seeing and what's going on. So dip in once a day at the most -- the water's warm but the waves are spaced far apart. See you soon. I'm off to pack and do a million things before heading for the airport.

Surfing Thru "American Idol"

Okay, who was more shocked: Chris or Katharine? I'd say Katharine by a nose. All during the show, whenever you got a glimpse of Katharine in a candid moment, she looked miserable. Katharine was stoic and sad because she knew perfectly well she was going home. And then Chris got the boot. (Paula's shocked dismay almost made it worthwhile.) Popsurfer Joe argues that Chris perhaps didn't even want to win "idol," since he's a rocker and that wouldn't be cool and he's already received enough recognition to ensure a record deal. He sure didn't look happy last night. Thank goodness he was honest enough to say he was shocked and not make some bland pronouncement about how talented everyone else was. I think the only thing less cool than a rocker going on "Idol" is a rocker who goes on "Idol" and then fails to blow away the pop kiddies. Presumably this means Taylor will be our next "American Idol." I'd be happy to have his band peform at my wedding and he seems like a nice guy. But I wouldn't buy his album. Would you?

Surfing Thru "Lost"

Who is John Locke? In Season One, he was my favorite character, a Zen master who understood the island and its mystical nature. Locke inspired confidence and trust. Now? Now he's bitter and questioning and seems to have forgotten everything he knew before. When Echo came up to Locke and said, "Take me to the question mark," the old Locke would squinted his eyes, thought a moment and said, "Okay." The new Locke bitches and moansand refuses to accept Echo has had a vision. Why? Why in fact would ANYONE be surprised when someone else says they have had a vision? Why would they resist that or find that hard to believe? They should be suspicious of people who HAVEN'T had a vision. And of course, when people should be practical they're not. Echo and Locke discover another bunker and watch a tape that makes clear punching the numbers in Hatch #1 is just a psych experiment and utterly meaningless. So Echo immediately decides pushing the numbers is vitally important and a matter of faith? Huh? I'm really getting annoyed.

Antony Sher On Directing

The talented actor Antony Sher is also a terrific writer. His book "The Year of the King" is one of the best records of an actor working on a play that we will ever have. Now he's directed his first play and Sher has written a piece for the Guardian about the experience. Not surprisingly, it's terrific fun.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Training The Next "Billy Elliot"

The West End musical "Billy Elliot" is a smash hit (and great fun). But it means having three lads who can tackle the role working on the show at the same time. (It's too strenuous to do eight shows a week for a 13 year old boy when they're the lead and have to sing, dance and act more than anyone else. Also, one lad has to be on call at every performance in case the kid onstage has to take a powder.) Plus there's the touring company and productions around the world. The result? A constant series of auditions and intense training, mostly with kids who have barely danced before and are often from working class families in the north. Finding one kid who can play the role is immense. Finding him again and again and again seems impossible. Here's an interesting piece on the process. My favorite tidbits: dancing comes first, singing is much less important but second and acting is third. (Director Stephen Daldry insists any kid can act.) And the first thing the lads are asked to do during an audition is to rush up to the desk where the judges are sitting and shout, "I don't want to be in fucking 'Billy Elliot' anyway!"

Soap Watch

I dipped into the soaps for no particular reason. My two favorite moments: on "As The World Turns," the pouty young son Luke came out to his mom and dad. What made me giggle was the public service announcement at the end where the actor playing Luke (Luke #6 to be exact, in the tradition of soaps where multiple people play the same character) turned to the camera and said, "I'm Van Hansis and I play Luke." Van Hansis has to be about the silliest, most "soap" ready name Iive heard in years. And on the shameless "Passions" they're trying to hook into the "Da Vinci Code" mania by having one character break into the Vatican to steal a chalice. But what I really loved was the scene where some girl who is clearly in love with Miguel (who is being seduced by a siren -- as in the mythical creature -- named Siren) tells her clueless hunky boyfriend why she's worried about Miguel without making him think she actually cares for the guy romantically. "He's my friend. We've been friends for a really long time. And he's the father of my child."

UK Top Ten

Here are the top ten movies in the UK:

1. "M:I:III"
2. Confetti
3. Ice Age 2
4. Silent Hill
5. 16 Blocks
6. Scary Movie 4
7. American Dreamz
8. Slither
9. She's The Man
10. Inside Man

And perception's a funny thing. The BBC just stole away ITV's drama producer Christine Langan, with the promise of a bigger budget. Among her successes: the jmovie Pierrepoint, which got decent reviews but has bottomed out at a low 189,000 pounds after five weeks in the theater.

"Lost" Continues UK Collapse

UK audiences seem to have wised up faster than the US ones -- or maybe they were primed to reject "Lost" by all the grumblings over here. In any case, "Lost" opened poorly last week and then plummeted more than 35% in the ratings in week two. It opened with 3.9 million viewers and then dropped to 2.8 million -- and was even beaten by the evening news and a rerun of "Mission: Impossible II." I wonder if this is happening in any other countries? This franchise has sprung a leak for one very obvious reason: the show's creator JJ Abrams hasn't been involved at all this year. He says the finale is terrific, but what do you expect him to say? With "M:I:III" in the theaters and "Alias" over, you'd hope he might try and bring this series back to life. But it doesn't seem like that is in the cards -- he's working on "Star Trek XI." ABC should be begging him to get involved again.

Howard Stern: Satellite Radio Is Where I Belong

Howard Stern wisely spoke up to make clear he had no intention of returning to terrestrial radio, despite being approached by at least three companies in the wake of Opie & Anthony's return to free radio while continuing their stint at XM. Stern says that shows they've been a failure on satellite. And he loves Sirius and would never return to the censorship of the FCC. It's the least he could do since Stern is only five months into a five year contract worth potentially $500 milllion. I still think my ideas to keep him in the spotlight and promote his show make sense: streaming online at a few hours of his show one day a week (on Mondays, I'd say) and/or a two hour podcast of one of his shows available for free would be a great promotional move.

Ten Things You Didn't Know About "Knight Rider"

People have talked about a "Knight Rider" feature film for years. (Bad idea, I think.) But since it's the Weinsteins that have just bought the rights, everyone is taking it more seriously. In honor of popsurfer Joe -- who first sent me the link about the news -- here's an LA Times story with trivia about the show, which I admittedly never watched. Looking at the TV schedule, i 1982 I was watching "Greatest American Hero" and/or "Dallas" instead of "Knight Rider." In 1983 when it moved to Sunday, I was watching "Alice" and "One Day At A Time." By 1984, it had been on so long I just didn't bother when it wasn't opposite anything I liked. And yes Joe, that is William Daniels as the voice of "K.I.T.T." He did play George Feeny on "Boy Meets World," but those of us who are a tad older will always remember his lead role on "St. Elsewhere," one of the best dramas TV has ever made. In related news, David Hasselhoff and his wife are getting joint custody of their two daughters and Hasselhoff still denies her accusations of domestic violence. As an aside, one of my favorite moments on the primetime specials starring the now-divorced Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey (I swear they were intentional satires of primetime specials from the Seventies) was the duet that Nick sang with K.I.T.T. Truly hilarious.

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Veronica Mars" A Mystery

No viewer totals today, but "American Idol" and "House" easily won the night, with CBS a distant second with its older-skewing combo of "NCIS" and two episodes of "The Unit." "Gilmore Girls" ended the season on a solid note. That ABC bird flu TV movie was a bust. And NBC only kept the lights on thanks to "Law & Order: SVU." But the critically acclaimed "Veronica Mars" was a distant fifth in its timeslot. CW -- the new network that combines the WB and UPN -- will be hard pressed to make the case for bringing this show back. But some savvy cable channel -- always the holy grail for fans of a beloved series that is getting the ax from a network -- really would be smart to pick it up. How about Lifetime, since the show skews female? How about A&E for its mystery angle? How about MTV, because young people love it? And they probably couldn't afford it, but the N (home of "De Grassi" and a slew of cookie cutter teen soaps) would be wise to give it a home.

Who's Bigger? Pearl Jam Or Tool?

Tool, not so surprisingly. Pearl Jam is a critical fave and a touring draw, but they have avoided commercial superstardom so effectively that their most highly touted album in years can't come close to the first week sales of Tool. Tool moved 564,00 units and Pearl moved 279,000. Pearl Jam is probably just fine with that and touring and future singles should keep them selling steadily for a while. Springsteen's album dropped by 50% despite great reviews and I assume great word of mouth. Jewel also debuts in the top ten, along with "Nashville Star" judge Phil Vassar, who has the highest debut of his career with "Greatest Hits Vol. 1."

1. Tool -- "10,000 Days"
2. Pearl Jam -- "Pearl Jam"
3. Mobb Deep -- "Blood Money"
4. Various -- "High School Musical"
5. Rascal Flatts -- "Me and My Gang"
6. Various -- "Now That's What I Call Music Vol. 21"
7. Godsmack -- "IV"
8. Jewel -- "Goodbye Alice In Wonderland"
9. Bruce Springsteen -- "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions"
10. Phil Vassar -- "Greatest Hits, Vol. 1"

Surfing Thru "Gilmore Girls"

Satisfying and yet annoying. Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Daniel clearly poured their heart and souls into this season finale (which almost counts as a series finale since they won't be back). And they delivered a solid, well-written, well-acted, well-directed show. So why the hell has the series been so spotty and even lackluster the last two years? Nice openers and closers, nice bit of whimsy (the crush of street musicians) that was kept properly in the background as just light filler rather than being a major storyline the way they've been indulging themselves. One off moment: Emily Gilmore saying Christopher and the woman she hoped to set him up with looked like a shampoo ad. Huh? And Emily should be a little more subtle. She's not a fool. Rory's scene with Logan's dad was also very good. Instead of being a cartoonish villain who won't even visit his potentially dying son in the hospital, he's very reasonable and direct. (Making Rory -- who's been a pill -- look more like a fool than ever.) And if these plot twists were GENUINE plot twists, I'd be very satisfied indeed. But they're not genuine plot twists: they're just artificial stumbling blocks until the show ends right where we know they expect it to end -- with Luke and Lorelai together. Rory is almost unrecognizable -- bitching to Logan's father instead of just being polite and moving on. Is she really angry that Logan's family expects to spend time with him on his college graduation day and the night before he leaves for London? That's absurd. She chose not to be with them (understandably) but then waiting for him is the price you pay. And why is this smart, witty, independent girl behaving like a floozie -- she's part of Logan's empty world instead of helping him escape it, which is what he always wanted. She hangs out with his friends, drinks a lot, and throws a big dumb party hours before he goes away instead of arranging to spend every minute with him alone? Dressed up in a costume, inviting tons of people you barely know, drinking away -- this is Rory? Nice final teary scene, though.

And frankly, I wish in a way Luke and Lorelai would break up. Nothing that happened made sense. Lorelai opens her heart to Luke and he keeps saying he has to think about his daughter. How could he possibly think marrying the woman he was DYING to be with would harm or interfere with his relationship with his daughter. In fact, a week or two ago we saw his daughter get along great with Lorelai -- as Luke knew they would. It simply makes no sense he would somehow twist his daughter into a stumbling block in their relationship. It never has. And he LOVES Lorelai. He spent years doing anything and everything to be with her. Still, if they really broke up, I'd be fine. But Lorelai immediately goes to Chris and our final shot is of her in his bed but miserable. Clearly we're not supposed to think she's where she belongs which means they're just biding time until Luke and Lorelai get together for real.

It Wouldn't Be Cannes Without A Strike

The police at Cannes are going to stage a modest two hour strike on the third day of the festival. Of course. That's just what people do in France -- strike. I've seen airline strikes, train strikes, sanitation worker strikes and --my favorite -- a strike by the guards who protect the men who deliver the cash that fills up the ATMs. That lasted most of the festival and had people lining up for hours early on to get cash and then running around desperately for days trying to find an ATM that wasn't out of cash. Mon dieu.

Surfing Thru "American Idol"

A solid evening for almost everyone -- so why wasn't I more excited by any of the performances? My favorite moment -- by far -- was the cheesey scene at Graceland where impresario Tommy Mottola was standing by the piano chatting with a musician when the Idols walk in and Mottola turns around as if he wasn't expecting them. Oh, are you here? I hadn't noticed the cameras filming me or the lights and I had no idea you were about to walk into the room. Hilarious.

Taylor -- his best evening yet and the first one that makes me think he could put it together at the finale to beat Chris. "Jailhouse Rock" WAS karaoke, but fun karaoke. (And whoever told Taylor he could dance was crazy.) But good. "In The Ghetto," was much much better. I think it's the first quiet song that Taylor's nailed -- the first time he's basically stood still and sung a song and delivered.

Chris -- "Suspicious Minds" was a great choice and as the song kept going, I was waiting for Christ to let loose. And he never did. A mellow "Suspicious Minds" -- instead of a furious, passion-filled one is not a good idea. Mottola's last words were that Chris needed to really dig deep. He never did. "A Little Less Conversation" was, I thought, a terrible choice. It's a decent, throwaway single but not really a song you want to hear other people perform. But Chris actually did on this number what he should have done with "Suspicious." He was even funky there for a moment and he certainly got as raunchy as "Idol" allows when singing the line "Close your mouth and open up your heart." And then at the end he ripped into it just the way you hoped for. Too bad he blew it at the end with that abrupt howl. Still, two numbers that could have been much better but were still good.

Elliott -- Never been a fan but he's definitely dressing and singing better. (And which is more important? We could debate that for hours.) His first number was a relatively obscure bit of junk that Elvis used to close his the Seventies. That would be the fat Elvis phase and while he could still sing, he was generally rising above material like this. So did Elliott. It's a bad song, but gave him lots of chances for Idol-like flourishes that fit. "Trouble" was another matter. He delivered it pretty well. But when Elliott sings "I'm evil" or "My middle name is misery" it makes you giggle. He's about as convincing singing the blues as Pat Boone was singing rock n roll. However, these two numbers were a peak for him.

Katharine -- a disaster. "Hound Dog" -- while not quite as bad on a second listen -- was still a mess. She seemed out of breath the entire number and fumbled the lyrics and tried to end with a Wynonna flourish that sounded labored and harsh. "Can't Help Falling In Love" was worse in a way. I can barely remember what song she sang because she's just singing the melody and looking for a chance to vamp -- one song is much the same as the next one to her. And here she ended with a really harsh big note and then a flat finale. I assumed she'd be safe through the next round. But I can't imagine anyone else being cut. Maybe her and Chris in the bottom two?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Howard Stern Back On Free Radio?

Howard Stern says he's been offered big bucks to come back to free radio while continuing his stint on Sirius. This makes even less sense to me than Opie & Anthony being shared between free radio and XM. Stern hasn't even been on Sirius for a year, he's still making headlines and if I were a subscriber I'd feel like a fool if I were paying $13 a month and suddenly he was on for free in my market. Plus, what about all the talk Stern gave about how free radio was killing its soul with its increasing limitations and how the FCC was hounding him (quite fair on both counts) and how he was revitalized by Sirius? If Stern wants to keep his mark on the real world he should: 1. Maybe stream his show for free online one day a week for say two hours. Drive eyeballs to the Sirius website, keep his profile high and let it be a constant tease to listeners about what they're missing the rest of the week. Or 2. Offer a free podcast of the show. Again, do it one day a week and include say 2 hours. Does the same thing as the streaming audio. Watch how successful it is. Takes the sting out of the "free radio" jibe of others, let's fans keep Stern uppermost in his mind and for people who like him, serves as a free glimpse of what they can get if they subscribe.And it costs virtually nothing and you can charge advertisers a premium to be in that broadcast.

Take That (minus Robbie) To Record New Album

British mega-boy band Take That (imagine NSync times the Backstreet Boys and you start to approach their UK popularity) are going to record a new album after the lads cleaned up on a reunion tour. All the members will contribute songs and while Robbie Williams will be missed, it was Gary Barlow who penned their breakthrough US single, "Back For Good." That broke the band in the US in '95, just as they were splitting up after years of massive success in the UK. I understand Robbie not wanting to join up full time, but he could have contributed a song to the album as well as sing and joined them at their final UK show or some such thing. Why ignore the group that got you where you are?

Anderson Cooper Falling Upwards

I like Anderson Cooper -- even though I'm not his type. But in all the news stories today about Cooper contributing to "60 Minutes," no one has pointed out the truth about his work on CNN (where Cooper will remain). He is performing lower than Aaron Brown both in total viewers and in the coveted 18-49 bracket.

You're On Your Own

Busy day today, what with a slow blogger and lots of work before I leave for Cannes. And tonight is the Yankees vs Red Sox. You're on your own till late night or tomorrow.

"24," "Buffy" and More Coming To iTunes

Fox joins ABC, CBS and NBC by selling current and classic TV shows on iTunes. Now biboy will have to stop stealing that hi-def bootleg of "24" he justified by the fact it wasn't available legally for sale.

Surfing Thru "Prison Break" and "24"

I'm enjoying the last episodes of "Prison Break," but I have to admit I seriously question my interest in it next season. They've set up a brutal competition between the cons to see who can discover the $5 million in cash hidden by fellow inmate DB Cooper (the famed hijacker who stole millions and then disappeared mid-flight). But should our hero be involved in that? Won't he be fighting to clear the name of his brother? And I really don't care about the Vice President (Patricia Wettig) and all the machinations of people in power. This show is a classic example of an idea that would have made a great telenovela (a season-long series with a beginning, middle and end) but doesn't make as much sense spread out over five years. As for "24," John Aravosis at Americablog is bored. Personally, I think it's one of the best seasons yet. Usually there's a serious drop in quality mid-season. Here, we've only had the quickly ignored sexual harassment girl and Jack Bauer's inexplicable failure to MAKE A COPY of the audiotape implicating the President. Otherwise, it's hurtled along nicely. But if you're bored by it now, wait till they release a feature film next summer (set in London) in between this season and next. You may start to wish Jack Bauer would shut up already.

Overnight TV Ratings -- People Like To Watch David Blaine Drown

I made the mistake of walking by Lincoln Center last night. I was utterly flummoxed by the massive crowds -- was Luciano Pavarotti back onstage? was Philip Glass debuting a new opera? was Il Divo in town? -- when I realized it was all for David Blaine. I've never bothered to watch him, but all credit to his showmanship and general PT Barnum-like air of hokeyness. His special did pretty well last night, increasing its viewers every half hour until he came out of that bubble. It scored 9.9 million viewers. The other big finale was for "7th Heaven," which like a good Christian show was fruitful and multiplied in its finale with several multiple-baby pregnancies. It hit a season high of 7.1 million viewers. "Prison Break" and "24" continued their cliffhanger ways, with "Prison" scoring 8.9 million viewers and "24" a solid 13.7 million. "How I Met Your Mother" modestly improved on its weakening "King of Queens" lead-in despite all that competition. "Two and a Half Men" hit 14.97 million. The top show of the night was "CSI: Miami" at 19.4 million. "The Apprentice" continues to limp along and "What About Brian" is dead.

Whoopi Coming To Radio!

Whoopi has signed with powerhouse Clear Channel to launch a morning radio show called "Wake Up With Whoopi" that will air across the country from 5 am to 9 am. Don't look for raunchiness or shock jock tactics or probably even a lot of politics. Whoopi will be airing on Adult Contemporary radio stations (think stations that play a lot of Elton John, Celine Dion and John Mayer et al) and she's aiming for a family audience. Morning radio does a terrible job of reaching women (you think most women want to listen to Opie & Anthony or Howard Stern?) and Whoopi could do a great job reaching them. She also wants to appeal to families and kids. Look for the show -- which will originate out of NYC -- to debut July 31.

Newspaper Circulation Falls; Internet Readers Grow

Newspapers took a steep 2.5% decline in paid circulation. That covers the last six month period (ending in march of '06) and is one of their biggest declines ever. Some positive reasons -- newspapers aren't wasting time and money with puffing up circulation via drops of newspapers at hotels, schools, businesses and elsewhere that aren't paid for and often don't get read. But the main reason may be explained by the next numbers: 37% of all Internet surfers went to a newspaper website in the first three months of the year. All I can say is: who are the 63% of Internet surfers that DIDN'T go to a newspaper website? Personally, I surf lots of sites and also buy at least the New York Times, the New York Post and USA Today every day.

By the way, Blogger is slower than molasses today, so expect fewer postings.

Cruise's New Movie Outdoes First Two Overseas

More info on the international bow of Tom Cruise's "M:I:III." As I reported yesterday, it grossed $70.3 million overseas -- the highest total yet overseas for the franchise (and also leading to the highest opening worldwide gross of $113 million). That's not really a surprise given wider openings, etc. But the first one grossed $53.5 million overseas and the second one grossed $57.4 million. Even taking into account the six year gap, ticket price increases and presumably a wider launch, that is still a very impressive jump in sales. A Hollywood Reporter columnist writes about the glee the media (and perhaps the public) took in reporting the opening weekend numbers. He blames the "weak" bow on the studio opening the film on a non-holiday weekend. If it had opened on a holiday weekend like the first two, we wouldn't be having this conversation. That's certainly one more reason the opener was softer. But here's another: IT'S A SEQUEL. Sequels tend to cost more and make less, certainly by the time you get to the third one. This is not a referendum on Cruise -- it's simply how movie franchises work. He would have done better to write about how the Traditional Media got it wrong.

Soap Watch

Luke finally comes out to his parents today on "As The World Turns."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Springsteen In London

Another tantalizing review of Springsteen's current tour. I love the description of a fan jumping onstage and Springsteen shrieking "the stage has been rushed during a 150-year-old folk song!" I do NOT want to miss this tour.

The Top 10 Albums Of All Time

That story on Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon made me wonder about the latest standings for the best-selling album of all time. These are for US sales only -- worldwide, the standings are somewhat different. These figures are per the RIAA as of March of 2006. And you'll notice I've removed double albums, because each sale of, for example, Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. I and II or Pink Floyd's The Wall is counted as two sales, which I think is wrong. In other words, 10.5 million copies of Joel's album have been sold, but since it contains two CDs, the RIAA counts it as having sold 21 million copies. That's just misleading and boneheaded, I think.

1. The Eagles/Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 -- 29 million copies
2. Michael Jackson/Thriller -- 27 million copies
3. Led Zeppelin/IV -- 23 million copies
4. AC/DC/Black in Black -- 21 million copies
5. Shania Twain/Come On Over -- 20 million copies
6. Fleetwood Mac/Rumours -- 19 million copies
7. Whitney Houston/Bodyguard soundtrack -- 17 million
8. Boston/Boston -- 17 million
9. Elton John/Greatest Hits -- 16 million
10. The Eagles/Hotel California -- 16 million

"Dark Side Of The Moon" Hits 1500 weeks on the pop charts

Pink Floyd headphone classic "Dark Side of the Moon" has now spent some 1500 weeks on various Billboard charts. Billboard confuses the issue a bit -- I always understood that the album would STILL be on the Top 200 album charts but Billboard changed the rules and decided after a certain time new albums would automatically switch to the Catalog Albums chart. This article seems to say it dropped off on its own. The article also says the CD has sold some 40 million copies worldwide, which puts it in a race with The Eagle's "Greatest Hits" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" for the bestselling album of all time. (Pink Floyd has sold about 15 million copies in the US, so it must have moved 25 million copies in the rest of the world.)

"24: The Movie" Is Happening

And it will be filming in London, says Kiefer Sutherland. As monkeyboy says, the ENTIRE POINT of the show is its real-time gimmick. Unless the movie is 24 hours long or only takes place over 2 hours, it doesn't make any sense. (In fact, the plan is to condense 24 hours of action into a two hour feature. But again, that undercuts the show's entire reason for being.) Plus, it's "24" overkill. I'm a big fan of the series, but unless they end it and wait a year before releasing the movie, it's too much Jack Bauer.

"7th Heaven" Passes On

Still the WB's biggest hit, "7th Heaven" says goodbye tonight. Given the large cast and how much more money you have to pay actors in a long-running hit, it only makes financial sense for the show to end now. But when the WB and UPN combine and suddenly realize their schedule is a lot weaker than they imagined, they'll miss the fail-safe programming of this show on Monday's at 8 p.m. What astonishes me to no end is that its creator Brenda Hampton says every network on the air -- including the WB -- has turned down every family friendly show she's pitched since "7th Heaven" became an almost instant hit ten years ago. If the creator behind the longest-running family drama in TV history can't get a pilot placed anywhere, that just proves how narrow-minded and stupid network executives truly are. So I'm not surprised "7th Heaven" is ending;, I'm just shocked no one has tried to secure Hampton's talents for her next hit.

Great Scot!

Check out my NY Post interview with the Scottish comic Billy Connolly, a hugely popular figure worldwide who is doing 20 shows in New York City starting Tuesday. His most notable work here was probably in the drama "Mrs. Brown" opposite Judi Dench, but he's a major figure among standups and a serious influence on Eddie Izzard and countless others.

UK Music Charts

Not much action on the singles chart, where Gnarls Barkley remains on top for the sixth week with "Crazy." But Snow Patrol debuts at #1 on the album chart with their new CD "Eyes open." Tool debuts at #4 and Pearl Jam at #5. And you gotta love how the Brits embrace classic music at any time. Nina Simone is back on the charts with a compilation, thanks to Groovefinder using her voice on a hit single. And Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers hit the top 40 with a greatest hits CD, perhaps in anticipation of Scott Walker's latest solo album. Since he puts them out at the rate of about one a decade, it's an event worth celebrating.

Broadway Becomes Like Opera: Only For The Super-Rich

I was wondering why it had become so remarkably difficult to buy decent tickets to a Broadway show even six months in advance. Now I know: Broadway producers have spread "premium" tickets -- tickets costing $200 or more for prime seats -- from just a phenomenon like "The Producers" to literally every show on Broadway, even flops like "Well." They're holding back 100+ seats(sometimes much more)until the last moment. That just puts good seats to good shows that much farther out of the reach of regular theatergoers and the NEXT generation of theatergoers. Broadway is now turning into the province of corporate clients and the super wealthy, which will make it that much harder to keep the business thriving and growing. London -- where tickets are often half the price and you can actually call the box office and get them set aside -- is more and more the place to be for serious theatergoers. Unless you work for a Fortune 500 company and can use the tickets as a write-off. Truly depressing news. PS. And just as I finished this, I got an email that "Well" was closing. That would have happened anyway, but there might well have been theatergoers who would have been able to see this well-reviewed play if they hadn't been shut out of the best seats.

The Bestseller List

Philip Roth hits #10 on the New York Times bestseller list with his new novel Everyman. And the nonfiction bestseller list is finally free of James Frey. Too bad I can't say the same for the nonfiction paperback list, where Frey clings to #10 with A Million Little Pieces. Who is still buying it? And tavis Smiley's anthology The Covenant With Black America continues to sell very well despite being virtually ignored by the Traditional Media. You'd think a collection of essays about the future of African Americans that debuted at #1 would generate SOME media attention. I've seen Smiley on Bill Maher and that's it.

PlayStation 3 Debuts Tonight

If I played video games, I might care. But happily I've been able to avoid that time-waster for years. (I barely leave my house as it is.) You can't buy one till the fall, but they'll be letting conventiongoers play at least a handful of new games and hopefully get enough buzz going that people will wait rather than buying an Xbox. One amazing stat: video gaming grosses more than Hollywood at the box office. But ONLINE gaming is getting massive too. The biggest hit there is World of Warcraft. It has six million subscribers (who pay a monthly fee to compete with thousands of others online at any time) and will gross $1 billion by itself this year. That's "Titanic" level money.

Just as importantly, the new PS3 will play Blu-Ray DVDs, the new DVD format competing with the better-named but less flashy HD-DVD. Both formats forget one important point: people are not going to pay a premium to switch from DVD to newer more expensive DVD players with titles that cost more in the store. Make these new DVDs JUST AS CHEAP as current DVDs and you will succeed.

Beta Band Frontman Goes Missing

Steve Mason, who wrote all the songs and was basically the heart and soul of Beta Band, has gone missing just days before his new band King Biscuit Time debuts their CD and they go on tour. Suffering from depression, Mason just took a powder and disappeared. This article ends with the reporter saying Mason did respond to a text message he sent, but without giving any clues as to where he was or when he would return. My favorite detail is how Beta Band was a critical fave but financially disastrous for the band. At one point after breaking through to critical acclaim, Mason says the band was $2 million in debt and he had to work in construction to pay the rent.

Surfing Thru "The Sopranos"

It wasn't the train wreck of other recent episodes. And with Christopher falling off the wagon and Paulie reuniting with his adoptive mother, I suppose I shouldn't claim that nothing happened. But nothing happened. The show seemed to meander along, with Tony and Christopher reminiscing over old times, the dull equipment failure at the street fair and other events that have already slipped my mind. So it wasn't "bad." Just boring.

"Stalin's World" Theme Park A Hit

In Lithuania, a man who made his fortune exporting mushrooms to the West has opened up a theme park nicknamed Stalin's World. It recreates the feeling of a Soviet-era gulag, complete with guard towers, glowering statues of Stalin, paintings and the like. Once you get bored with them, there's also a merry-go-round and a small zoo. "Kids love it," says the park's creator. My brother Chris says with the success of this venture, he's more hopeful than ever about getting backers for his Black Plague vacation resort.

"Doctor Who" Wins Best Drama In UK

The BAFTA Awards -- the UK equivalent to the Emmys -- were held last night and they were a very British affair indeed. "Doctor Who" won best drama and a viewers' award. The political satire "The Thick of It" won best comedy. And Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" (his Uk spin on "American Idol") won best reality show. The frantically directed "Bleak House" won best miniseries. But what made the night so very British was how everyone kept apologizing for winning. TV host Jonathan Ross won best host but felt bad because everyone expected "Deal Or No Deal" Noel Edmonds to win for his comeback on that game show. And Anna Maxwell Martin won for "Bleak House" but felt bad because she thought it should have been her costar Gillian Anderson. No American has ever felt bad for winning any award ever.

Apple Computers Isn't In The Music Business?

The Beatles company Apple Corp lost its lawsuit against Apple Computers. In letting Apple Computers play off their iconic logo, the Beatles made Apple agree to stay out of the music business. A British court ruled that Apple had abided by that decision -- despite iTunes being the #1 online music store in the world that recently sold its one billionth song. the comuter folk argued that iTunes is just a "data transmission service." I don't want to get all legal on you, but the name of the company is iTUNES. They sell music. Maybe it's the difference between owning a record label and just selling the CDs, but if Apple opened a chain of record stores, surely they'd be violating the agreement. How is iTunes any different? The Beatles are appealing.

Disney Ends Ties To McDonald's

Wow. Disney is walking away from its long-term promotional tie-ins to McDonald's and their Happy Meals. This means Disney is leaving on the table some $1 billion in payments and -- especially -- the marketing muscle of McDonald's, which assured that every time a Disney animated movie was coming out that kids were reminded of that fact some ten zillion times via TV commercials, posters, toys, games and more. When DEisney can end its ties to McDonald's because of fears of being linked to childhood obesity, that's a major change in both how kid movies are marketed and America's attitude to junk food.

Are Catholic Church Leaders Taking A Cue From Scientology

Another Catholic Cardinal has moronically spoken out against the silly piece of fiction known as The Da Vinci Code. Their stupidity in giving credence to the anything-goes conspiracy theories that pepper the book is really breathtaking. And this cardinal -- Francis Arinze of Nigeria -- was one of the preferiti, one of the frontrunners for Pope. "There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking," said Arinze. The Cardinal apparently was suggesting Catholics sue the filmmakers, which is both idiotic and a waste of money, since obviously there is no case. (That would make the Catholic Church akin to Scientology, which sues at the drop of a hat.) But given the worldwide riots sparked -- in part -- by Danish political cartoons of the Prophet -- I think Arinze's remarks that other religions don't "just talk" are much darker and more controversial and offensive.

Weekend Box Office

Here are the final figures. In the posting below, you can read my explanation for why people are jumping the gun -- to say the least -- when they say "MI:III's" opening is a bomb. It's a SEQUEL folks -- nine times out of ten they cost more and make less. (By the way, worldwide it made $118 mil, more than the first two.) "United 93" dropped by more than 50% -- not because the movie had bad word of mouth, but ebcause it had good word of mouth. Everyone agreed it was wrenching. $20 mil is a good number for such a sober, small film with no stars, but I think they would have done better to open in February, before the summer mvoie season. In limited release, "Art School Confidential" and "Down in the Valley" both did okay. And "Thank You For Smoking" hit $20 million -- I was wrong about that one; I never thought it would have legs.

1. Mission: Impossible III -- $48
2. RV -- $11.1 mil ($31 mil total)
3. An American Haunting -- $6.4 mil
4. Stick It -- $5.5 mil ($18 mil)
5. United 93 -- $5.2 mil ($20.1 mil)
6. Ice Age 2 -- $4 mil ($183.3 mil)
7. Silent Hill -- $3.9 mil ($40.8)
8. Scary Movie 4 - $3.7 mil ($83.7 mil)
9.(tie) Akeelah and the Bee -- $3.4 mil ($10.7 mil)
9. (tie)Hoot -- $3.4 mil

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"M:I:III" Takes In $45 Mil! Tom Cruise's Career Is Over!!

Tom Cruise's new movie "M:I:III" took in $45 mil over the weekend, far lower than his last film "War Of The Worlds" and less than "Mission: Impossible II." (Women in particular were always a strength of Cruise and seemed less interested in this film.) Pundits will immediately scream that America has rejected Cruise because of his crazy antics. America think he's "weird." Actually, America thinks ALL Hollywood stars are weird but they go to their movies anyway. Remember one thing: in general, sequels make less money. Let's look at the facts. First, "War Of The Worlds" was Cruise's biggest hit worldwide ever. So yes, compare his new movie to his biggest hit ever and it might seem to fall short. Second, "M:I:III" is the second sequel in a franchise and historically sequels tend to drop off from the blockbuster that launched the franchise. (For every exception, there are TEN examples that bear this out.) So it will be quite natural if "M:I:III" makes less than "M:I:I" or "M:I:II" because that's what sequels do: they cost more and make less. Finally, let's wait a week and see if the movie has legs. It got okay reviews (par for the course for this franchise) and the audience I saw it with applauded at the end. If it collapses and makes less than $100 million, okay -- people rejected it. That's not gonna happen. "M:I" opened to $45 mil (sound familiar?) and made $186 mil US. "M:I:II" opened to $57 mil and made $215 in the US. If "M:I:III" makes $120 to $150 mil, that would fit the classic case of a sequel making 60% of the movie that came before it. Plus, Cruise is bigger than ever worldwide and they know and care even less about his private life. It will easily make $300 mil worldwide (not counting another $300 mil for DVD, TV sales, pay-per-view, etc.) and if that's a failure, Cruise and Hollywood will take it every day.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Surfing Thru "United 93"

I wanted to see it. I needed to see it. (For work.) But I kept sort of avoiding it, even though I didn't expect the movie to bother me emotionally beyond whatever the movie itself might achieve. But it did. And it was certainly the quietest New York audience I've been around at a movie theater in a long time, if ever. Not a sound from anyone from beginning to end. Director Paul Greengrass did a terrific job -- no surprise since his "Bloody Sunday" was an exceptional look at the Irish troubles that felt so authentic you wondered if it was a documentary and his "Bourne Supremacy" proved he had a way with action and violence. It was matter of fact, moving and sad. I don't ever need to see "Mission: Impossible" again because it moved me so little. I don't ever want to see "United 93" again because it moved me so much.