Saturday, June 30, 2007



In Picks in todays WSJ, Ben Kingsley lists 5 of his favorite performances in film.

One of his selections was Spencer Tracy in the 1955 Bad Day at Black Rock. That was always one of my favorite pictures, and one which I think is singled out too rarely as one of the all-time great movies. It came out at the end of long period of cowboy movies, two years after Shane (which is often celebrated), and it's too often ignored. I'm glad he mentioned it.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007



The British Pound cost $2.00 today. It's been high for a long time, but this is a milestone (on the path to where?) . For an American going to London, where the price of most things (in Pounds) is numerically about the same as the price (in Dollars) in New York, this means everything is twice as expensive.

Conversely, in New York, where everything is now half price for Englishmen, expect more tourists coming to their former colony, taking pictures of us native colonials.

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Monday, June 25, 2007



Every scene of
Fools Rush In is fun, well acted, interesting. Lot's of great moments. Matthew Perry is excellent, as is Salma Hayek. Jill Clayburgh has a great cameo.

Given all that, plus Matthew Perry's great following from Friends, and Hayak's charm and beauty, this should have been a great hit. Yet, according to Box Office Mojo, it made only about $29M.

What's the difference between this movie and a romantic blockbuster?

I have an idea...

First, although individual scenes are great, they are strung together with contrived plot devices. Had this story been allowed to evolve naturally, I think it would be one of the great romantic comedy/dramas.

Second, the title sucks. Although it makes sense for the story: the two lovers rush in to a relationship without thinking much about what they are doing, it's not remember-able. (It's also half a cliche.) I couldn't remember it from one moment to the next; I kept looking up the title of the movie I had rented. (What was the name of that movie? Oh. Oh, yeah.) And it doesn't sound appetizing. A book title like, "Passionate Love For Idiots" implies that idiots can have great fun. Fools Rush In implies that fools do foolish things. Who wants that? All us idiots in the audience want to know that our idiocy is really one of our great strengths. This title suggests it's a problem. Don't want that!

So... I'll recommend this film as long as you can remember the title (and then ignore it), and provided you don't pay attention to the broader strokes in the plot, as the film leaps from one scene to the next. Just enjoy each scene as it comes!

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Sunday, June 24, 2007



Michael Moore
made an interesting point, in an extended version of the interview that Peter Bart & Peter Guber from Sunday Morning Shootout conducted at Cannes. (See our earlier post!) He said that people in this country are sometimes trying too hard to be individual and independent, and that sometimes We need to do things together.

It's how we started, he suggested, citing the first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution, "We, the People..."

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Excellent singing, interesting story. Lots of great acting, including an Oscar winning performance from
Jennifer Hudson.

I was bored.

Here are some personal notes on

The biggest problem I had was the Jamie Foxx character. From the hints in the plot, he's got to be a charismatic operator. But the part was underwritten, and the performance too low-key. All his showmanship, his salesmanship, and his flagrant criminal activities were offscreen. His love scenes were tepid.

Originally a Broadway show, the film is full of show-stoppers -- extraordinary songs, full of emotion, belted at high volume. Live, they could be spectacular. On screen, they simply stopped the show.

It's the atmospheric, highly musical story of a "fictional" singing group from Motown that makes it big... And the people they leave behind.

I think you've just got to be in the mood to enjoy this one.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007



"Very little plot and so much life,"
is the director's own -- very accurate -- comment on his film,
Forty Shades Of Blue, the story of a (beautiful) Russian woman living with a (much older) music producer and their young son in Memphis.

I liked this film a lot. (If it had more plot, so it moved ahead like a freight train going down a hill, it would be a great film, a classic.) Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the film is sensitive, interesting, moving and perceptive.

Directed and co-written by Ira Sachs, this is a film that has been carefully constructed word by word and shot by shot. It was written and re-written several times, and developed in part at the Sundance Institute. The commentary by the director exposes in great detail the process and the thought behind the writing, directing and acting of almost every scene, together with the antecedents in film history. For any student of film making, this is one very valuable DVD.

Especially interesting is the exceptional acting by Dina Korzun, a Russian actress. Her Russian style of acting lends a special kind of intensity to the film. Her behaviour is very different from the way an American would behave. Her English is excellent, and accented just enough to give her strangeness a grounded reality of Russian detail. Rip Torn also gives one of his best performances.

It seems as if every shot, every costume, every set, every word has been planned to enhance the resonance of a story of love and lovelessness, happiness, sadness, discovery and loss.

The careful construction, though, has it's own pitfalls. It is both a strength and weakness of the film that is well described by the director's last words on the DVD: "It's a movie -- whatever you say, it's a movie. It's not life."

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Thursday, June 07, 2007



The schedule has been announced for the Williamstown Theater Festival, one of the best of the summer theater festivals. It features several world premieres. Allison Janney (from West Wing & Studio 60) will join Elizabeth Franz in The Autumn Garden. Lily Rabe (daughter of playwright David Rabe & actress Jill Clayburgh), who has been getting great notices in a series of plays in recent seasons, will be in Crimes Of The Heart, directed by Kathleen Turner. Durrenmatt's The Physicist, and Blithe Spirit will be among the revivals.

Williamstown is a very pleasant place to visit. However, the quality of the accomodations varies widely, so check out carefully where to stay. The best housing and the best tickets sell out quickly, so it's wise to choose early.

Williamstown Theatre Festival -- June 14 to August 26

Herringbone. June 14-24 -

B. D. Wong stars as one of vaudeville's greatest child stars in this heart-breaking one-man musical.

Dissonance. World Premiere. July 4-15 -

An exploration of the collision of two musical sensibilities--rock and classical. June 27-July 8 - The Front Page. Richard Kind and Wayne Knight star in the classic ink-stained newspaper comedy.

Villa America. World Premiere. July 11-22 -

Sara and Gerald Murphy, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Picasso on the coast of France.

Blithe Spirit. July 18-29 -

Jessica Hecht and Wendie Malick star in Noel Coward's "supernatural comedy."

Party Come Here. World Premiere. July 25-August 5 -

Hunter Foster, Malcolm Gets and Kate Reinders star in this new musical comedy.

The Corn is Green. August 1-12 -

Kate Burton, Dylan Baker and Ginnifer Goodwin star in the story of education in a Welsh mining town.

The Physicists. August 7-18 -

Roger Rees stars in Durrenmatt's look at science, morality and the relevance of sanity.

Crimes of the Heart. August 8-19 -

Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe and Kali Rocha star in Beth Henley's comedy directed by Kathleen Turner.

The Autumn Garden. - August 15-26 -

Elizabeth Franz, Mamie Gummer and Allison Janney star in the story of friends confronting middle age.

Schedule: Tues. - Fri. at 8, Sat. at 8:30 Thurs. at 3, Sat. at 4, Sun. at 2

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Sunday, June 03, 2007



On The LOT is a TV "reality" show descibing a competition among directors to get a $1 million development contract at Dreamworks. The Executive Producers of the show are star director Steven Spielberg and star reality producer Mark Burnett.

The concept behind
On The LOT (OTL) is terrific. It is

Unfortunately, the devil has disrupted the details. Ratings are low, and the website forums are nearly unanimous in their comments on problems with the show and the website.

Here are the biggest problems and how to fix them. It’s an OTL REMIX summary.

The structural problems:

Movies are great. People love exciting/beautiful actors/actresses. People love a feature film that takes them into some fantasy world for two hours. People like to watch how this fantasy world is made. People don’t care that much about short films; they’ve never been really big. People don’t care that much about directors unless they’re already celebrities.

The producers are being very secretive – for example, not releasing any information to the "official" website until after everyone else knows about it. There was almost no information about the show or the developing competition posted on the website from the time people entered the competition until the show went on the air. The TV show skipped some steps in the selection of the finalists, relegating a "missing episode" to "outtakes #4" in a clip a few minutes long on the website. They continue to be secretive about the process, and when they do release news, it’s not on the website. They have alienated many of the most likely fans – the filmmakers active on the website.

The contest is structured so that people (civilians, the TV audience) vote on the films. This is problematic. If they show all the films on TV, people will not remember them. Online, not many people are going to view all the films and make a wise decision like a critic might, or the way a director would critique a student director’s work. People are going to vote on personalities, on their connection to the filmmaker, and on their interest in the overall story, and the mayhem that occurs in the film. On the web it has always been funny films, erotic films, embarrassing films, and other quirky films that get watched a zillion times. Great, well-directed short films not so much. It’s really hard to vote on films on the telephone and, so far, website voting has not worked well at all.

The public is not really aware of the show. Even many filmmakers I've talked to have not heard of the show.

The website has a lot of great sections. Unfortunately it does not work. It is way too slow. And there are many crucial bugs in essential features. The casting section is a mess. The voting didn’t work the first time around, the classified ad section often doesn’t accept ads, and there is no search on blogs, boards and casting. Also, the producers seem to post news about the show everywhere else, before it shows up on the "official" site.

The show seems under-rehearsed, with poor performances by the judges and the hostess, and a terrible script and format that is too derivative of Idol.

Here’s my fix:

A- Hire a celebrity host who is a great improviser, knowledgeable about movies and their creation, and is a big draw for the show. Possibly a comedian/comedienne, or a model or actress who has hosted TV and other events; and someone who is savvy about filmmaking. That will help improve ratings AND give the show more energy.

B- Change the show format, and hire a new writer and director for the show who will give it a distinct identity. That will make the show more fun. (This may be in the works; see below.)

C- Make stars of the directors; and make events out of the short films: Give the directors some celebrity actors to work with. In the show, focus on the performers, the directors and the filmmaking process. Get the judges to disagree and debate the films. Let the directors engage the judges, rather than be just "rated" as they are on Idol. Directors should be articulate about films and filmmaking – that’s what makes directors interesting. Conclude the show with a brief segment sending someone home; followed by the presentation to the directors of the next challenge.

Promote the show more vigorously. For example, I haven't seen anyone from the show on the talk-show circuit. (Having more celebrities involved in the show would make this easier.)

D- Change the rules for the contest – despite the promotions – so that the public can rate the quality of the film, but the judges (and Spielberg) make the final decisions. The public can not reasonably select the best director, especially not with the current system for viewing the films and voting on them. It’s hard for the audience to properly study the films, and hard to vote fairly for filmmaking/directing ability on either the web or the phone.

The producers have actually subtly changed the rules already. According to an e-mail I received – which, as usual, was not posted on – here is the plan for this week. Quoting from the e-mail:

"Tuesday's one-hour Episode of On The Lot will be premiering five of the remaining contestants’ 3-minute shorts. The judges will weigh in with their thoughts and feedback on the films that the finalists created and then you will decide! Your vote determines who will go and who will stay. The "Box Office" results will be announced in next week’s episode. Make sure you head to after Tuesdays Episode to watch the Contestants Films from this week and cast your vote!"

It’s not clear if this means we only vote on 5 at a time, and the contestants now have extra time for the next film, or if the show is only promoting 5 of the films – like a magician who asks you to choose a card, any card, and then "forces" the choice.

It also means that the most interesting news about the show is still not coming on the website.

E- Fix the website: (1) Put all the information about the show and the contest on the website first. Give the producers, judges and others who run the show (and even the candidates) a blog on the site to talk openly about the making of the show and the contest – the filmmaking, the judging…. (2) Put a lot of tech talent into updating the website, fixing the bugs, and fixing the speed problems.

This TV show can still be a hit! The contest can discover some new directors! And the website can be great for filmmakers, and a very valuable property!

0 -- 0 -- 0

I'm not on the show. I am in the Headshot Gallery, but right now no-one will ever find my picture because it is buried amongst about 3,000 other pictures with no way to find any particular one. But you can find my film, OTL ...

FRAGILE (Sonnet 65) with Intro

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I've been enjoying
Sunday Morning Shootout more and more each time I watch it. Last week they presented a great show from the Cannes Film Festival.

Sunday Morning Shootout on AMC TV is a joint effort from
Peter Bart, editor of Variety, and Peter Guber, a producer and former Chairman of Columbia Pictures.

Michael Moore, currently promoting his new film Sicko, about the health care system, Bart commented that Variety (famed for its headlines, and newly coined words) had proclaimed "Sicko is socko," to which Moore replied that "Shootout is boffo". [**]

Also interviewed was
Sarah Polley, from the jury at Cannes, an actress, and now director of Away From Her with Julie Christy. Not quite 30, Polley has more than 50 acting credits on IMDB, starting at the age of about 6, plus numerous writing and directing credits. Though she was soft spoken, it would be interesting to have someone like her, an actress, director, and film jurist as a guest judge On The LOT.

[**] For those unfamiliar with
Variety slanguage, socko is a compliment suggesting a successful box office. It may derive from "sock" as in sock it out of the park. Boffo is a similar compliment with a similar meaning whose derivation I can only guess at. As it usually refers to Box Office results, the BO in BOffo may derive from that.

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