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Friday, October 31, 2008

David Alan Grier Begs Black People: Don't Do Stupid Sh#t

Longtime readers of this blog (LOL, what?) know that there's nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than talking about race. I prefer to just apologize whenever the subject comes up. I'm sorry I'm even writing this post. Can we talk about the weather instead? That's why I'm so glad there are black people like David Alan Grier who can talk about race without any discomfort. Can you imagine what it would be like to talk about race if there were no black people?



Posted by matt tobey

Original here

Brand quits BBC over prank calls


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Russell Brand: 'It was a really stupid thing to do"

Russell Brand has resigned from his Radio 2 programme following prank calls he made with Jonathan Ross to actor Andrew Sachs.

It follows a public apology from Ross over his "juvenile and thoughtless remarks" in the calls.

Earlier, it was announced the pair would be suspended and all their shows taken off air until the BBC has investigated the calls made on Radio 2.

Fawlty Towers actor Sachs, 78, said he had "respect" for Brand's decision.

Sachs was upset after Brand and Ross left a series of lewd messages on his voicemail as part of a pre-recorded show, taped on 16 October.

The pair made obscene comments about the actor's 23-year-old granddaughter Georgina Baillie during four separate phone calls.

'Brilliant actor'

Andrew Sachs says he accepts Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross's apologies

Brand said in a statement that he took "complete responsibility" for the incident.

"As I only do the radio show to make people laugh I've decided that, given the subsequent coverage, I will stop doing the show," he said.

He added: "I got a bit caught up in the moment and forgot that, at the core of the rude comments and silly songs, were the real feelings of a beloved and brilliant comic actor and a very sweet and big-hearted young woman."

Earlier, he told reporters waiting outside his home: "I'm sorry that I have upset Mr Sachs."

He had presented his Saturday night show since November 2006 and is believed to have been paid more than £200,000 a year.

I am not going to take it anywhere. I'm not out for revenge
Andrew Sachs

Meanwhile, Ross said in his statement: "I am deeply sorry and greatly regret the upset and distress that my juvenile and thoughtless remarks on the Russell Brand show have caused."

He said he had not issued a statement before because he had intended to apologise "to all those offended" on his Friday night chat show.

"However, it was a stupid error of judgement on my part and I offer a full apology," it added.

During the calls, Ross swore and said Brand had slept with Sachs' granddaughter.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Brand and Ross are my two favourite BBC entertainers. They provide me with laugh out loud moments!
Mark, Leicester

More than 27,000 people have complained to the BBC while watchdog Ofcom has launched its own investigation.

The corporation's governing body, the BBC Trust, has called a special meeting of its editorial standards committee for Thursday.

Director general Mark Thompson will report management findings to the meeting and tell bosses what action he plans to take.

'Breach of privacy'

Announcing the suspensions in an earlier statement, Mr Thompson said he would be returning from a holiday and would "in the coming days, announce what action we will take".

Mark Thompson
This gross lapse of taste by the performers and the production team has angered licence payers
Mark Thompson

"Since Sunday, I have been in regular contact with the senior executives I tasked with handling this issue," he said.

"In the meantime, I have decided that it is not appropriate for either Russell Brand or Jonathan Ross to continue broadcasting on the BBC until I have seen the full report of the actions of all concerned.

"This gross lapse of taste by the performers and the production team has angered licence payers."

He added his "own personal and unreserved apology to Andrew Sachs, his family and to licence fee payers for the completely unacceptable broadcast".

BBC One show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross was due to have been filmed at BBC Television Centre, west London, later on Wednesday.

Guests on the show were to have been Sir David Attenborough, comedian Frank Skinner, US teen singer Miley Cyrus and band The Killers.

A decision has yet to be taken on what should be shown in its place on Friday night.

Ross's Saturday morning radio show, has also been pulled from Radio 2's schedules.

'Lovely old man'

Georgina Baillie
Georgina Baillie said "justice" had been done over the suspensions
Meanwhile, Ms Baillie told the Sun newspaper's website she was "thrilled" over the suspensions "because justice has been done".

"Me and my granddad are both really happy," she added.

"I'm glad it's all over with, as far as I'm concerned."

Earlier, she told the paper: "What's funny about humiliating a lovely old man who has never harmed anyone in his life?"

Brand and Ross were "beyond contempt"," she added.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown criticised the pair for "inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour", while Conservative shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a speech on Wednesday that it was "wrong for broadcasters to produce programmes that legitimise negative social behaviour".

He told BBC News the corporation's reaction to the affair was "concerning".

Original here

The Beatles finally go digital for MTV's Rock Band

By Frank Caron

Update

Full coverage of the announcement that the Beatles will be the subject of an all-new, standalone title.

Original story

The battle between Activision, makers of Guitar Hero, and MTV-Harmonix, makers of Rock Band, has been a battle for the bands, quite literally. The two have for years now been engaged in a war for exclusivity with some of the world's all-time greatest musicians in an effort to build the ultimate set lists for their respective music-based video games. But the most sought-after and coveted trophy in music, The Beatles, lay unclaimed. That is, until now. MTV, wielding the power of its parent Viacom, has claimed the Liverpool legends for itself, meaning that Rock Band will be the exclusive platform for the advent of the first ever digitally-distributed Beatles tracks.

Ars was one of many outlets that received an invite to an announcement scheduled for Thursday morning at 10am EDT. In advance of the press conference, however, the Wall Street Journal confirmed the industry-rattling news.

The importance of this event vastly transcends gaming. This is the first time that the Beatles music has been licensed for release in a digitally-distributed format; the songs have never before been officially licensed for release online, even through popular services such as iTunes. The implications of what this could mean for Apple Corps' business decisions moving forward could be staggering, but at this time only the deal for Rock Band has been announced.

Needless to say, Beatles exclusivity is a astronomic win for MTV. Activision and Harmonix, the two premiere corporations behind the plastic instrument revolution, have been butting heads over musicians for quite some time now. Beyond the inclusion of contemporary favorites like the Foo Fighters, both Activision and Harmonix have been vying to sign some of the biggest labels in rock music, including the likes of The Who, Guns n' Roses, Metallica, and AC/DC. This war peaked at this year's E3 event, when the two battled head to head with exclusive deals for Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Part of the appeal for Apple Corps here has to be the fact that the music in Rock Band has been selling in record numbers. As the music industry has come upon tough years, Rock Band and its full digital distribution model shines as a beacon of hope for an industry that has struggled to catch up to the times. With the video game platform only growing by the day, Apple Corps can rest easy knowing it can sit idly by and collect the income from both old fans dying to play the classic tracks in their video games as well as new, young fans who will come to know the Beatles music through the game rather than the radio.

How exactly MTV and Harmonix will utilize this newfound property is not yet certain. Previously, stand-alone games have been released for big bands: Guitar Hero: Aerosmith focuses on the award-winning band almost exclusively. Whether this is the strategy that Harmonix wants to use, or whether it will continue with its strategy of offering downloadable tracks for its suite of Rock Band games is unclear. Meanwhile, Activision is on the outside looking in as the most popular musical act in history signs on with its competitor. Might we see Guitar Hero: The Monkees edition in response?

This news comes following word from former Beatle Paul McCartney, who prophesied that the Beatles would be going digital by the end of 2008 and was rumored to have signed a deal with Apple at one point. It also puts to rest previous rumors which suggested that a Beatles-branded Guitar Hero game was in the cards.

More details about the deal are expected to arrive at the joint MTV and Apple Corps press conference. Ars Technica will be listening in and readers can expect follow-up coverage on the specific game-related details on Opposable Thumbs following the call.

Original here

Fuck Janet Leigh And Her Shower: 13 Horror Scenes That Will Really Terrify You

By G. Martin

Halloween rules. Not because of the candy or the parties or the fact that it allows full-grown men to act like preschoolers or women to dress like brazen sluts. No, Halloween rules because of the movies. This is the only time of year when Hollywood calls attention to all the bloodiest, grisliest, nastiest things in life and makes them... fun. This is also the time of year when all of the so-called experts trot out their tired, predictable lists of the films that allegedly make them wet the bed. You know them before you read them: Night Of The Living Dead, Psycho (original flavor), Jaws, Rosemary’s Baby, The Birds, blah, blah, fucking blah. Each entry is about as spine-chilling as a rerun of Full House. This year, the problem has been addressed. Strap on your Depends and get your read on.

13. The Exorcist III: No Time For Anesthetic
Director/screenwriter William Peter Blatty took complete control of what he viewed as his masterwork and came up with something only slightly more redeemable than the execrable Exorcist II: The Heretic, but there is a diamond in this pile of coal during a seemingly innocuous sequence that takes place in a hospital hallway. Nurses and various staffers move in an out of an uncomfortably long shot until out of nowhere, an avenging knight in white satin comes in to perform some unnecessary surgery. This kind of cinematic “surprise” or “Gotcha!” is often dismissed as a cheap way of getting an easy visceral reaction from people, but fear is a physical response, so what’s the fucking problem?


12. Eyes Without A Face: Plastic Surgery Gone Very, Very Wrong
The word “haunting” is abused a lot this time of year, sort of how assholes like to throw around words like “genius” or “brilliant” at pretentious parties. The imagery of this French flick stays with you like bad shrimp, but the excruciatingly hard to watch facial surgery is the section that will leave the deepest psychic scars. Weird, trippy and featuring a visage mask that makes Michael Myers’ Shatner gear seem cute in comparison, this graphic classic will haunt you, for real.


11. Saw: Here Piggy, Piggy
Although the constant flow of sequels has generated a product stream of ever-diminishing quality, the first film is a tidy morality tale with just the right blend of successful influences (Se7en, The Twilight Zone) to make it work. The best part of the original is the fact that its sick events could actually take place in “real” life. The strongest example of this idea is embodied when Jigsaw (dressed in a cloak and pig mask… WTF?) jumps out of the closet to kidnap Cary Elwes’ future cellmate, answering the perennial question of whether we're alone when we come home to an empty apartment with a resounding no.

10. Twilight Zone: The Movie: "Wanna See Something Really Scary?"
In a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind, we open on Albert Brooks and Dan Akroyd driving along a quiet highway playing TV theme song trivia as they make their way into a wondrous land of imagination. Could there be anything safer or more non-threatening? So when everyone’s second-favorite Ghostbuster asks the guy with the best white-man’s afro ever if he wants to see something scary, no one actually expects the subsequently horrifying results. The false sense of security that’s established is precisely what makes the payoff so ridiculously effective. Unfortunately, it would be another 13 years before Akroyd returned to the horror genre with his 1996 masterpiece, Celtic Pride.


9. Don’t Look Now: Little Red Riding Midget
From Freaks to Twin Peaks to the Austin Powers oeuvre, evil midgets (dwarves, if you’re nasty) have been terrorizing audiences for eons. But the most terrifying member of the Lollipop Guild has to be the deformed “Little Red Riding Hood” from this unforgiving tale of a missing child, starring a young(er) Donald Sutherland. This is a twist ending so intense, the only real-life comparison (spoiler alert!) would be if Natalee Holloway’s mom thought she spotted her daughter in a crowd, tracked her down and just when they were about to hug, “Natalee” pulled a knife on her. The ending also happens to be the midget’s shining moment, so once you’re done the with first viewing, wash the Mini-Me out of your underwear and give it another whirl to see how they put it all together.


8. It: John Wayne Gacy’s A Pussy
One of the strongest adaptations of Stephen King's work features the most frightening character to ever spring from his cesspool of evil, the ultimate killer clown, Pennywise. Forgetting for a second that most people now associate his name with that crappy pop-punk band, Pennywise the character was not one to laugh at. Combining every violent, child-killing, “tears of a clown” stereotype known to man, this is the harlequin of hate that John Wayne Gacy could have been if he tried a little harder (and had superpowers). Picking a particular stand-out scene is difficult in this case because every second that Tim Curry is onscreen is disturbing to the bowels, but his first emergence in the mouth of a sewer is probably the most chilling. Good thing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were there to reclaim the drainage underground and save the day.



7. The Shining: Bath Time With Grandma
It’s happened to the best of us. You start making out with a total piece of ass and just as you’re rounding second, she up and morphs into a monstrous sea hag. Like going home with Julianne Hough but waking up with Cloris Leachman, poor Jack Nicholson gets the undead switcheroo pulled on him in the greatest of the Stephen King adaptations (naturally, King supposedly hates it).

6. 28 Days Later: When Monkeys Attack
Right up there with upside-down crucifixion and being mortally incinerated, death by chimp attack has got to be one of the worst ways to kick the bucket. Now, death by rabid, infected chimp? That's like a trillion times worse, so one can imagine how deeply these "ape bites man" images affected maimouphobics around the world. Then again, some would consider this scene to err on the side of comedy, since watching lefty hippies getting slaughtered by the very animals they're trying to save is hilarious on several levels.


5. 1408: "We've Only Just Begun..."
Horror legend Lon Chaney once said, “There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.” The same can be said about shitty pop songs blaring inappropriately in the dead of night. After seeing this film, binging and purging won't be the only things that cross your mind the next time you hear The Carpenters' warbling "We've Only Just Begun" (this fan-made trailer will have to suffice for now in lieu of the specific scene in question).


4. Friday The 13th Part 2: Make Your Fucking Bed
Just because the title has a number in it doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie will suck (Superman II, anyone?). Providing one of the best scares in the series outside of Kevin Bacon getting an arrow in the neck, a witless teenage girl (as if there were any other kind) walks into her friends’ bedroom and finds nothing but a messy bed. Wearing a sack over his head (that's way way creepier than any goalie mask) with only one eyehole cut out, Jason pops out from under the sheets and eviscerates her (natch). Lesson? Follow your mother’s advice and make your bed everyday, or a knife-wielding maniac will graphically punish you… and then she'll tell your father.


3. The Strangers: Come And Knock On My Door
In The Strangers, like in the Rocky Dennis biopic of yore, it’s all about the masks. The head villain’s eerily random intro (or rather, the introduction of his mask) as he silently sidles up behind Liv Tyler and then just stands there is easily one of the most unsettling sequences in recent memory. Guess pillow cases aren’t just for Klan rallies or to cry on anymore.


2. Se7en: Turn Your Head And Cough
Although most would consider this one to be a thriller rather than a straight-up horror movie, David Fincher’s pre-Fight Club opus contains one the best shock moments of all time. When Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman get to the “Sloth” entry on Kevin Spacey’s list, they discover what looks like a rotting corpse strapped to a mattress in a correspondingly smelly room. Then the “corpse” coughs and proves that the rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated. Turns out this is what happens when you spend an entire year in bed. Now that’s fucking lazy.


1. Audition: Coming Home In A Body Bag
The Japanese horror industry has taken a beating lately due to the slew of reputation-tarnishing American remakes that pollute the cinema like so much bad sushi. Thankfully, this savage little torture flick’s legacy remains perfectly pristine… like a surgical tool. A twisted bait-and-switch story involving an innocent-looking manga pixie and her would-be seducer delivers its finest moment as the camera lingers on a random bag of laundry lying on the floor of our “heroine’s” modest apartment. Then the bag suddenly starts to move… and scream. The ensuing shenanigans will make you think twice the next time the cute chick at the massage parlor decides to go off the menu. Make the wrong move and you might get a decidedly unhappy ending.

Make sure to check in Friday for a special Halloween-and-beyond-themed version of Films From The Cable Afterlife.

Original here

Charlie Kaufman Will Break Your Brain in Synecdoche, New York


By Kaila Hale-Stern

Synecdoche, New York, the latest film from Charlie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" Kaufman, creates its own brand of magical realism crossed with science fiction. The tale of a theater director with a grotesque disease directing a play that never ends, Synecdoche, New York is a meditation on relationships — and time travel. Kaufman has played with our sense of reality in his movies before, letting us climb into a celebrity's brain with Being John Malkovich for example. But Synecdoche is a place where a house can be casually on fire for thirty years without that seeming out of the ordinary. Petals can fall from tattooed flowers. Fast-forwarding through time soon comes to feel like the norm instead of something strange. This is truly scifi as art — or maybe art as scifi. But is that good? Spoilers ahead.

No one working in film today has perfected the art of the trippy, mind-bending script quite like screenwriter Kaufman. As a screenwriter, he proved that it was possible for a writer to truly make a movie his own, and to achieve a level of notoriety for writing rare in Hollywood. But it is almost impossible to review Synecdoche, New York, the latest effort from Kaufman's fevered brain, since the movie doesn't abide by any movie rules I know.

This time Kaufman the writer also stepped into the role of director, and the result, while defying every convention you've ever heard of, ultimately runs on in sore need of an editor. But even this could be an intentional effect — because everything is speculative in the strange, half-scifi world of Synecdoche.

The story starts out mundanely enough, introducing us to Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Caden Cotard (Kaufman loves his quirky names) and his strained family life. Caden is a theater director in a small, upstate New York town, about to launch a new production of Death of a Salesman. He's married to a free-spirited, frustrated artist, Adele Lack (Catherine Keener), and they have a precocious young daughter, Olive. It soon becomes clear that Caden is suffering from a life-threatening, mysterious illness, with doctors urging that he see a neurologist. The affliction is manifested as a sort of light-hearted grotesque — emphasis on toilet humor, bulging pustules and uncontrollable body gyrations abound. With his marriage to Adele barely functional and his future uncertain, Caden flirts forlornly with buxom box-office girl Hazel (Samantha Morton, with a lot more hair than she had in Minority Report).

This seems to set the stage for a story about relationships and life crises, all done up in what Kaufman is really best at: the art of making awkward dialogue poignant, scripts saturated in quibbling exchanges made brilliant in their accuracy. But everything goes haywire after Adele elects to take Olive to Berlin — that's when Caden's reality, and the audience's, begins to come undone. Before long, the movie, which had already shown hints of its surrealism under the surface, jumps any recognizable genre. We all start experiencing time dilation and strange skips; the world seems to progress around Caden without his knowledge, and he's our anchor in it.

Caden, still sick, but still not dead, is finally spurred to action when he receives a MacArthur genius grant, and decides to mount an epic production that will be "big, and true, and tough." This comes to be in a massive warehouse in the heart of New York City, featuring a cast of thousands, though they have no script yet. That's when things get really weird.

There are many elements to Synecdoche that are flawlessly executed: its character portrayals and their dialogue; the imaginative and evocative sets and painstakingly chosen backdrops. There are dingy hospital corridors like something from a horror film, and scaled-down replicas of New York City within more replicas. The clothes always fit the characters just so, and the faces are intimately framed. No one can fault Kaufman's fine attention to detail or how fully he's realized an imagined, alternate world. You can see that it must have all gorgeously made sense in his head.

While the film breaks new ground in terms of narrative free-fall and unabashed oddity, it must be argued that everything is taken a bit too far. Kaufman's ideas and themes are unerringly interesting, and the movie wants to be making important, existential statements, but there are too many of them. Running at just over 2 hours, Synecdoche suffers from its length and too many curveballs. We're along for the twisting ride, and mostly game. But after so much relentless weirdness, it's hard not to want your feet back on solid ground.

I wanted to love this movie the way I've loved Kaufman's other creations, especially Eternal Sunshine. But Synecdoche could have been trimmed to a far more palatable shape that would have better showcased its bizarre sensibility and made its biggest themes bolder. It's to Kaufman's credit as a storyteller that we are invested in these strange, often unlovable people at all.

"Speculative" may be the best way to describe what's going on, sometimes tipping into even more apparent realms of science fiction. There's certainly many ideas that flirt with it, like Caden trying to train his ailing body with bio-feedback and the threatening zeppelins that patrol the night sky in his future. The normal rules that govern time and space are askew, and people constantly encounter the extraordinary alongside on the regular. While Caden's staged drama progresses, spanning years and acquiring a life of its own, the "real" New York world seems to be experiencing an increasingly violent, encroaching, unexplained war. Kaufman has his characters stroll through shooting and screaming and dying unremarked upon, still caught up in their domestic affairs.

Synecdoche sports a cast of exceptional actors, many of whom must age decades in the movie's elastic timeline. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in almost every scene, and inhabits Caden with a sullen emptiness so exact it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. British actresses Samantha Morton and Emily Watson play doppelgangers of the same part to great effect. Their Hazel has all the trappings of a Kaufmanesque heroine, down to the red hair, colorful clothes and ever-present quirkiness. Hope Davis has a small part as an eccentric therapist, and Dianne Wiest another as an actress turned director. Michelle Williams is so good as an ingenue who catches Caden's eye that I am forced to retract Dawson's Creek jokes forever.

But having all the trappings of a brilliant film does not mean that they come together to form one. The various threads and subplots threaten to collapse under their own weight as fiction becomes meta fiction becomes meta fiction becomes meta fiction. By the time Caden is directing a full-scale replica of his own life, shadowed by actors who grow to know their roles better than the originals, the search for a cohesive narrative or the emotional payback we usually expect from a film is off. We are kept in our seats by the desire to see what could possibly happen next, growing cautious as Kaufman shows no qualms about killing off important characters.

Death is, in fact, the main theme underlying Synecdoche, always looming larger than the challenges of life. Love is desired and endlessly pursued, but portrayed as ultimately fleeting and tragic. "Everyone," the characters say more than once to each other, "is disappointing." While the newspaper ads crow about this all being hilarious, I have to say that this was one of the most relentlessly depressing movies I've ever seen. You will laugh many times, but it will mostly be awkward.

By the time Kaufman calls in a modern deus ex machina, I was ready for this long strange trip through psychological and English and drama theory to end. But Synecdoche will have as many ardent fans as it will befuddled viewers calling bullshit. It's easy to see that Kaufman is trying to make deep investigations into the human psyche: the themes of life, death, war, family and romantic love are writ large and sometimes literally preached at us or given a special monologue. But the movie is impaired by how much of a free reign its writer-director has been given — his hands are in too many pots. Its run time could be nearly halved and still maintain the parts that are the most affective and revelatory.

See Synecdoche, New York if you love Charlie Kaufman's uncommon worlds, if you have a fond taste for the bizarre, and the willingness to give up all narrative bearings. See it especially if you enjoy endlessly ruminating on the nature of existence. Just don't see it with your friends who have short attention spans, or anyone not keen on all that's meta and much too self-aware.

Original here

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's official: Robert Downey Jr. will suit up for 'The Avengers,' Jon Favreau on board as an executive producer


Marvel Studios announced Tuesday that the "Iron Man" tandem of star Robert Downey Jr. and filmmaker Jon Favreau will assemble for the "Avengers" film, although the role announced for Favreau is that of executive producer, not director.

Avengers_no_1

It's no surprise that Downey will reprise his role for the "Avengers "movie, but the official word is part of the ongoing campaign to stir excitement for the first major motion picture that will bring together superheroes from separate franchises. You can see all of this leading up to some future Comic-Con International panel that will have Downey sitting next to at least two other Oscar-nominated actors: Edward Norton, who played the Hulk this summer and is, by all appearances, on board for more action, as well as Don Cheadle, who will pick up the role of Col. James 'Rhodey' Rhodes in the "Iron Man" franchise. The Marvel announcement today made his addition to the cast official and made a point to announce that he would be in the "Avengers" film as well.

It's not clear yet who will be playing Thor, the Wasp or Ant-Man in the film, the other founding members from the Marvel Comics hero team that began in 1963 in the classic issue shown here on the left. There's also the question of who will play Captain America (the most famous Avenger, but one who didn't show up until issue No. 4 in the comics) in the hero's solo film as well as the Avengers project that will follow it into theaters in 2011, if all goes as planned. No substantive word yet on the director for either the Cap movie or the Avengers project. Favreau, of course, will direct "Iron Man 2," which is slated for 2010.

Don_cheadle_2Terrence_howard_in_iron_man_2

The announcement on Tuesday was a mild attempt at spinning the news coverage toward Favreau, Downey and Marvel newcomer Cheadle ("Hotel Rwanda," "Crash," "Ocean's Eleven") and away from Terrence Howard, whose ejection from the "Iron Man" franchise is still a sticky subject. Howard was poised for a meatier role in the franchise as his character is set to follow a story arc adapted from the Marvel comic books that has him getting armor of his own and becoming War Machine.

Now Cheadle, who was in action-movie mode earlier this year with "Traitor," will suit up. Why the change? "Sources close to the deal" told the Hollywood Reporter that the switch came after a salary dispute between Marvel and Howard, but the actor later told NPR that he was befuddled about that characterization. "It was the surprise of a lifetime," he told interviewer Scott Simon. "There was no explanation ... I read something in the trades implicating that it was about money or something, but apparently the contracts that we write and sign aren't worth the paper that they're printed on, sometimes. Promises aren't kept, and good faith negotiations aren't always held up."

The debated departure of Howard from the "Iron Man" cast has been a nasty jolt in an otherwise magical year for Marvel Studios, the Hollywood start-up that saw its first two projects, "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," finish among the top movies of an exceptionally crowded summer for popcorn films.

"Iron Man" has grossed $318 million at the U.S. box office (a total that trails only the history-making numbers of "The Dark Knight") and "Hulk," with $135 million domestically, stands right now as the 11th highest-grossing film for 2008 to date, pulling in a larger total than more celebrated films such as "Tropic Thunder" or "Wanted" and finishing right behind "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

Original here

Has John McCain's Pimp Hand Gone Soft?

here are few things in life that can't be easily boiled down to a prostitution metaphor. Parenting? Religion? Roofing? They're all better understood through a pimp-and-ho-colored lens. And politics? Well, that's barely even a metaphor. Here's a web-exclusive video of David Alan Grier breaking down the infighting in the McCain/Palin campaign into terms we can all understand.



Catch a new episode of Chocolate News tonight at 10:30pm/9:30c. Posted by matt tobey

Original here

Beatles video unearthed after 44 years

The colour, but silent, film was recorded covertly at the concert in Kansas in 1964 and is believed to be the only recording of the 31 minute gig.

Fan Drew Dimmel, who is now selling the roll of 8mm film reel at a British auction house, was 15 when he went to see the band in his home city.

He took his father's brand new "movie" camera and despite strict restrictions about filming, managed to persuade a local reporter to take some shots.

After getting home, Drew checked the film contained footage of The Beatles then shut it in a drawer and forgot about it.

Two months ago the 59-year-old was clearing out his parents' home and was stunned when he discovered the tape still in its photo-lab box.

Although there are just two minutes of footage the pre-sale estimate is a whopping 6,000 pounds and Beatles collectors from around the world are expected to bid.

The gig at the Municipal Stadium in Kansas was controversial because of the unpopularity of Charles Finley, owner of the Kansas City Athletics Baseball Team.

The local press urged a boycott of the concert in protest against Finley and as a result the stadium was almost half empty.

The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein had managed to negotiate a fee of $150,000 for the gig, which helped leave Finley out of pocket.

Mr Dimmel said: "When confirmation was announced on my local "rock" station, WHB, that tickets were going on sale to see The Beatles, live, at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City I persuaded my dad to drive me down to the ticket booth.

"I bought two field-level tickets, paying $6.50 apiece; one for my little brother and one for me. I was 15 and he was 12.

"On the evening of September 17, 1964, 20,000 of us gathered at Municipal Stadium to hear The Beatles.

"My father agreed to lend me his brand new "colour" regular-8mm movie camera for the evening.

"I was going to stand in front of the stage and film the show but, when the lights dimmed a policemen told us to find our seats.

"A local reporter who was a friend of my dad was in the press barrier and he recognised us and said he would try and get some shots of The Beatles for us.

"I thanked him and obediently handed my dad's brand new movie camera to a total stranger.

"The next day I took the film to our local camera store, making no mention of its contents, and waited for them to develop it. I paid four dollars developing fee.

"I went straight home, checked to see that images on the little reel were The Beatles, opened the drawer of our old desk and placed it in the bottom of the drawer.

"And there it's been for the last half of a century until we cleared out my parent's estate two months ago.

The sale will be held on November 4.

Original here

Scream Queens

For more than 80 years, ugly deviants have been scaring beautiful girls. Now, KING documents the evolution of the horror hottie. Holla, if you hear them

By Matt Barone

1925
The Phantom of the Opera’s scariest scene hints at what future “scream queens” will make audibly clear. Upon unmasking the disfigured Phantom, our revolted heroine—opera singer Christine—screams, before fainting. Yes, silence is golden.



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1935
In what’s widely considered horror’s moment of conception, Bride of Frankenstein climaxes with two mad scientists bringing Frank’s corpse bride to life in a laboratory. (Hey, isn’t that how Sarah Palin was created?) Unfortunately for our lumbering antihero, his scientifically assembled wifey violently dismisses him, which predictably causes Frank to go apeshit. Consider him the original sensitive thug.



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1960
For Janet Leigh, a sensual shower scene quickly degenerates into the most disturbing cleansing since 50 Cent and Terrance Howard’s romp in Get Rich or Die Tryin’. With Psycho, director Alfred Hitchcock shattered plot structure conventions by killing his lead halfway in. If only Cuba Gooding Jr.’s movies followed suit.



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1974
Black Christmas—the largely overlooked genesis of the full-on “slasher film”—features a never-seen psychopath mingling with co-eds in a sorority house. His favorite reindeer games include suffocation by plastic bag and impaling. Somebody definitely got coal in his stocking.



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1978
Cinema’s quintessential scream queen careerist, Jamie Lee Curtis, first evades Michael Myers in the original Halloween. Curtis, the daughter of Psycho’s Leigh, later headlined The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train and Halloween 2. But she broke horror junkies’ hearts by saving her first nude scene for the 1983 Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places. No wonder her death in Halloween: Resurrection felt so satisfying.



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1996
Generation X got its own slasher film with Wes Craven’s sarcastic and blood-drenched Scream. Most notable, however, was how the genre’s typically D-list casting was replaced with above-the-title talent such as Drew Barrymore, Courteney Cox and Rose McGowan’s nipples.



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1997
In I Know What You Did Last Summer, buxom brunette Jennifer Love Hewitt confronts a fishhook-wielding killer in ideal fashion: The more danger she’s in, the fewer clothes she sports. By the film’s final reel, she’s wearing a towel. Finally, a scream queen we didn’t want to see kick the bucket.



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2003
If you can sing, you can undoubtedly scream. In the surprisingly well-made Freddy Vs. Jason, modern horror’s titans clash, racking up an impressive body count in the process. The sexiest of the fatalities was Kelly Rowland, who survived for about three-quarters of the film before being hurled into a tree by Jason. Hey, at least she wasn’t in The Pink Panther.



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2003
Take a bow, Mr. Costume Designer, you deserve it. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Jessica Biel battles the demented (and inbred) Leatherface in a dirty, sweat-drenched wife-beater. Sadly, it’s her lone horror-movie moment. Unless you count her flirtation with Adam Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.



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2005
Cursed was a laughable attempt to reinvent the werewolf genre. Honestly, it sucked. Really. But the one thing it has going for it is Mya’s extended death sequence, which she performs in a form-fitting, leopard-print dress. It’s the only redeemable part of the movie’s 90-minute running time. And the reason why the fast-forward button is precious.



Original here

Daniel Craig's quantum leap


Advertisement

Daniel Craig on James Bond and the Quantum of Solace

By Tim Masters
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Daniel Craig may be a man of many talents, but he also has the power of prophecy.

"I'm going to get hurt," he said at the press launch for Quantum of Solace in January - just after filming on his second outing as 007 had commenced.

And here's Craig nine months later with his right arm in a sling after a shoulder operation, having also severed his fingertip and had eight stitches in his face after being accidentally kicked by one of his co-stars.

The actor proffers his left arm for a solid - if slightly awkward - handshake and, despite all those injuries, is in an ebullient mood about the new film.

"I'm very happy with the result and director Marc Forster's done an amazing job, so I couldn't be happier at the moment," Craig says, his eyes every as bit as blue in real life as they are on the big screen.

Creative input

Daniel Craig as James Bond
Critics have given Quantum of Solace a largely positive reception
The first reviews have been largely positive and critics and fans are starting to openly declare Craig to be the best Bond of them all.

Not least because he has helped reinvent Bond as a cruel and emotionally battered character who is far closer to the superspy of Ian Fleming's novels.

"The character's rounded and 90% of his views I can't go along with," says Craig.

"But he falls in love and falls out of love, he struggles with his work, and to get some of those in the movie is just the job. I don't know another way of doing it - I look to the Flemings for help."

Quantum of Solace is the shortest Bond movie to date, but packs in more locations than ever before.

Filming began in January at Pinewood Studios in the UK before moving on to Panama, Chile's Atacama desert, various locations in Italy including Siena and Lake Garda, plus Bregenz in Austria and San Felipe, Mexico.

The workload, says Craig, was tougher than it was on Casino Royale.

"There was a potential actors' strike in June or July and because we'd started we had to finish on a certain date, so the pressure was on - we couldn't stop. If I'd got an injury and we'd had to stop for a couple of weeks it would have really screwed things around. "

Daniel Craig as James Bond
Quantum of Solace is the shortest Bond film to date
So how much creative input does Craig have in the production process?

"I don't shut up!" he laughs. "I can't give you a percentage. I try and involve myself with everything - but I don't interfere. Marc's the director and it's important that his vision of the movie comes across very strongly.

"We sat in meetings months before we started shooting and talked about what we wanted. So I'm as involved as much as I can be."

Return of Q?

Both of Craig's Bond movies have ditched the gadgets, the glib one-liners, Miss Moneypenny and Q . Bond doesn't even sleep with his feisty sidekick Camille (Olga Kurylenko).

But Craig is adamant that the likes of Moneypenny and Q have not been consigned to Bond history.

Quantum of Solace
Olga Kurylenko plays Bond's sidekick Camille

"No, not at all," he says. "We certainly have to introduce them and earn the right to have them. You can't just drop them in. There's a generation of people who don't know Bond movies and I want them to watch the movies and understand who those characters are."

So how does Daniel Craig - the actor - detach himself from the world of James Bond and keep his feet on the ground?

"By getting away from it as much as possible," says Craig decisively.

"And where do you go?"

"Well I'm not going to tell you, am I?" says Craig with an icy blue warning flash of those piercing eyes. Then he breaks into laughter.

"No, I spend time with my friends and my family the people that matter to me."

And then it's time for a final left-handed shake, before Craig heads off on another assignment with a member of the press.

But James Bond will return in 2010 - and it looks like some old Bond favourites might be joining him too.

Original here

‘Fireproof’ Earns Twice As Much As ‘Religulous’

by Vic Holtreman

Fireproof vs Religulous

I went and saw Fireproof this weekend, the low budget Christian film starring Kirk Cameron. It cost all of $500,000 to produce thanks to tons of volunteer efforts and community donations. As far as I know Cameron refused a paycheck for appearing in the film.

It was written, produced and directed by Alex Kendrick, whose previous two films Facing the Giants and Flywheel (neither which I’ve seen) are both also Christian-centric films.


I haven’t seen Bill Maher’s Religulous, and honestly, have no desire to do so - at least for a few months. All this electioneering has my blood pressure spiking already and I don’t need to see Maher’s smarmy approach to belittling religion to put me over the top. Maybe once the election dust has settled and it’s no longer saturating the web I’ll feel up to it.

Expectedly, Religulous has been getting much better reviews than Fireproof. I can’t say I’m surprised due to a number of reasons - I’m sure the production values on Maher’s film are far higher than on Kendrick’s, and the Fireproof cast was populated by members of the local church… no professional actors outside of Kirk Cameron. And of course the subject matter and message of the film doomed it to critical panning overall, regardless - although I was surprised to see at least moderate recommendations from a couple of critics at the NY Times and Variety which looked past the obvious at the emotional impact of the film.

Bill Maher conducts an interview in Religulous
Bill Maher conducts an interview in Religulous

What I found to be completely unexpected is the fact that Fireproof has earned twice as much at the box office as Religulous.

Both opening weekend box office numbers and total to date are as close to two-to-one as you can get. On their respective opening weekends (one week apart), the barely advertised Fireproof earned $6.8 million while the highly advertised Religulous earned only $3.4 million. As of the date of this post the numbers are $23.6MM vs $10.6MM.

And let’s not even get into the profit margin side of things. Fireproof had an ROI of $46 for every dollar spent while Religulous earned $4 for every dollar (probably less, if marketing is considered).

Granted, Fireproof opened on 60% more screens, but over ensuing weekends its numbers have dropped by a far lower margin due to word of mouth than Religulous.

A friend of mine who runs a movie news site asked (incredulously) how in the heck a movie like Fireproof could have a $6 million opening weekend. I would add to that how the heck did it manage to trounce Bill Maher’s anti-religion movie?

Sure, I’ve heard the “call to action” reasoning - churches exhorting their members to go out and see the film and support it. I can tell you that I heard no such announcement or mention at the church I attend. I didn’t even know about it until after it had already opened. Of course I’m not saying that didn’t happen, just that it didn’t happen at my church.

Kirk Cameron rescues a child in Fireproof
Kirk Cameron rescues a child in Fireproof

What I do find interesting is that the movie has held up so well - this must be attributed to good word of mouth. Believe me when I tell you I was not looking forward to watching it, but my wife and I and another couple made a day of it, driving up to Park City. I was expecting a cheesy movie along the lines of the Left Behind movies - and while the acting was far from great (with a few surprising exceptions), I found the film to be much better put together than I expected.

And personally, I found it extremely moving and that surprised me big time.

Now if someone shows up to see this film who is a hard core athiest or an anti-religion/anti-Christian person, they’re going to hate it and its heavy slathering of “the message” starting at about the half way point. However for those who can set that aside, you’ll find a very emotionally intense film about the attempt of an estranged husband trying desperately to keep his marriage together.

I cannot speak to the content of Religulous - I’m sure it was quite enjoyable for fans of Bill Maher. But I’ll tell you what’s fascinating about all this to me… I spend a LOT of time online, and it gives one a skewed view of the population. I would say that people who don’t believe in God and are vocal about it probably outnumber believers by at least 5 to 1 online. There’s nothing scientific about that number, it’s just my impression from blogs and social networking sites that I frequent.

I say it’s skewed, because if that translated to “the real world” Religulous should have beat the crap out of Fireproof at the box office. By a very wide margin - especially considering TV commercials, trailers, etc.

But that didn’t happen.

I know that spending a lot of time online can cause us to think that this little “bubble” represents everyone out there, so maybe we should step back once and a while and remember that it doesn’t.

To some that will be disconcerting (and they’ll no doubt deny it), but to others it’s a comforting thought.

Original here

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Exclusive Obama Anthem from Eyes On Obama & The Real Right

By timran

We wanted to do something special to mark the last week of the campaign, and so we've recorded a song to help keep you pumped up as the election approaches. We hope you like it! If you do, please email it to your friends. The lyrics are posted below.

You may be wondering what TheRealRight.com is. Well, we've had so much fun covering the election season that we've decided to continue on after Obama is elected. We thought a new name was in order, and so we selected TheRealRight.com. Our tagline is "Impartial and Unbiased" (tongue firmly planted in cheek). The site is now operational, but we're still working all the kinks out of it.

The short version is that if you're a member of EyesOnObama.com, you're already a member of The Real Right. We'll be covering more than just political horse races though - the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, education, climate change - everything's fair game.

We hope we give you plenty of reasons to stick around after the election is over!

Brought to you by TheRealRight.com and EyesOnObama.com

LYRICS

Chorus
-------
Back against the wall
But ain't got no reason to be scared at all
Hope is on the way
Tomorrow's gonna be a brighter day
So come stand with me
Go hand in hand make history
There ain't no turning back
Everyone say yes we can


Verse 1
-------
I'm free to do just what you say
I'm free to let you have your way
There's so much freedom to endure
Oh what a price to feel secure
And in your world of black and white
Am i what's wrong and you're what's right?
Shades of grey are back again
Your reign of terror's at an end


Verse 2
-------
A coalition of the meek
Been scared too long afraid to speak
We can't afford more of mcsame
And now we're desperate for some change
It's time to stand up for what's right
It's time to get in to the fight
Let's give 'em something real to fear
Cause we all know the fall is near


Bridge
-------
Young and old now
Come together
Sisters brothers
Come together
Black, white, latino
Come together
Let's stand united

Video from "Sign of Hope & Change"
Featuring sunrise footage of BlueMarvel.

Original here

Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle Sign On for The Avengers

Marvel Entertainment has just announced that Robert Downey Jr and Don Cheadle have signed on for both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau will also executive produce The Avengers. As previously reported, Cheadle will be replacing Terrence Howard as Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes.

The announcement also comes with the first look at a plot synopsis tease: ” “In a movie event, The Avengers will bring together the super hero team of Marvel Comics characters for the first time ever, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and more, as they are forced to band together to battle the biggest foe they’ve ever faced.” Who could that be? With Hulk on the listed team line-up, does that mean that the big green guy is out as a possibility?

Iron Man 2 hits theaters on May 7th 2010, and The Avengers hits theaters on July 15th 2011. Check out the full press release after the jump.



ROBERT DOWNEY JR. AND JON FAVREAU SUIT UP FOR MARVEL STUDIOS’ THE AVENGERS AND IRON MAN 2

As part of his four picture deal with Marvel Studios, Robert Downey Jr. is appearing as Tony Stark in THE AVENGERS motion picture, as well as reprising his starring role as the larger-than-life leading character in IRON MAN 2. Jon Favreau will return to direct the sequel to the blockbuster IRON MAN, which to date has grossed over $578 million worldwide, as well as executive produce THE AVENGERS.

Academy Award® nominee Downey was most recently seen in the summer comedy blockbuster TROPIC THUNDER starring opposite Ben Stiller and Jack Black. Before Iron Man, he was best known for his film roles in KISS KISS BANG BANG, WONDER BOYS and CHAPLIN, the film for which he was nominated for an Oscar®

Original here

7 Actors (and 2 Directors) Who Need to Retire

By Jenni Miller

Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Sean Connery's confirmed he's done with acting and it's not a moment too soon. (We'll always have "Suck it, Trebek!" on SNL reruns. Sadly, we'll also always have The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.) But, as the legendary Scottish star walks of into the sunset, we've recognized a handful of other actors, and two directors, who need to take a cue from Connery.

1. Harrison Ford
Harrison, you had a great run but we got exhausted watching you go through your Indy motions in Crystal Skull. You haven't made a decent drama since What Lies Beneath in 2000 but you did make a mockery of hacking in Firewall. You could go the route of Richard Gere and start making rom-coms for ladies of a certain age, but you at least need to retire the hat while you still have some dignity. For the sake of Han Solo, Jack Ryan, and that crazy, sweaty guy in The Mosquito Coast.

2. Eddie Murphy
In Delirious and Raw, you dropped enough F bombs to make Lenny Bruce rise from the dead. You also made 48 Hours, Trading Places, and Coming to America. But now you torture us with Daddy Daycare, Norbit, and Meet Dave. Step away from the sequels and come quietly to the land of retired comics. Joe Piscopo did it; why can't you? (Piscopo's still alive right? Eh, who cares.)

3. Mike Myers
Did you see The Cat in the Hat? Shrek The Third? The Love Guru? Hmm, neither did we... Now that we think about it, if you keep this streak alive, and continue to make movies we'll never see, that's just as good as being retired. Keep up the invisible work, Mike!

4. Rob Schneider
We know Adam Sandler's coattails are tempting. He's given you those bit parts in almost all of his movies, from Mr. Deeds to Big Daddy to Nobody Messes with the Zohan. He's given you ideas — bad ideas. Like writing, producing, and starring in the upcoming The Chosen One, which, for some reason, features a gay Buddhist monk. (Sure to rival the offensive Asian preacher you played in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.) Fade away into that good, non-Hollywood night, and we'll cherish the memories we have of you playing hackneyed, racist characters. You can do it!

Verne Troyer and Uwe Boll on the set of Postal
Verne Troyer and Uwe Boll on the set of Postal
Courtesy of Vivendi

5. Uwe Boll
It's not just that you can't stop making horrible movies, or that your source material is from old, crappy video games (Postal? Seriously? That was a game from 1997. It was 2D! It ran on Windows 95!) It's not that you have 6 projects in development, including another sequel to BloodRayne, and four in production. It's that you're so adamant your movies aren't shitty. Paul Verhoeven may still think Showgirls was misunderstood, but at least he has RoboCop and Total Recall to fall back on. Uwe, if that is your real name, the only good thing you've ever done is challenge Michael Bay to a boxing match on pay-per-view. We never thought the day would come, but you made us take sides with Michael Bay. For that you must leave us. Now!

Dane Cook in Good Luck Chuck
Dane Cook in Good Luck Chuck
Courtesy of Lionsgate

6. Dane Cook
Starring in "comedies" like Employee of the Month to Good Luck Chuck and My Best Friend's Girl (which you also produced) only go to show that your choice to star in Mr. Brooks, a moderately creepy thriller, was a fluke. But now that you've written a Disney full-length feature, Dad Knap, you must be stopped. What next? A trilogy about Myspace? Fire your agent, quit hanging around college campuses, and take your "edgy" comedy back to the dank bars from whence it came.

7. Tobin Bell
Didn't Jigsaw die? Can't you make him stay dead? Take your creepy puppy and be away with you!

8. Stephen Baldwin
The last good movie you made was The Usual Suspects in 1995. Although there's always a place in our hearts for terrible horror films like Shark in Venice, which includes sharks, the Mafia, and long-lost treasure, it is time to admit you're the least talented Baldwin. Hell, even the fat, crackhead Baldwin has better prospects than you.

9. Rob Cohen
Although the possibility of a Russ Meyer biopic sounds promising (appropriately called King of the Nudies), you can't stop churning out xXx and The Mummy sequels. Meanwhile, you're executive producing a John Carpenter movie that stars Nicolas Cage (both of whom almost made it on this list... sorry, John, you're our hero but They Live was 20 years ago). Just step away from the director's chair and return to your catacomb loaded with neon green street racers and cardboard cutouts of Vin Diesel.

Original here

Movie planned on life of Prophet Mohammad

DUBAI (Reuters) - A movie drama about the life of the Prophet Mohammad is to go into production soon, and will be only the second English-language film of its kind ever made, its producers said on Monday.

"The Messenger of Peace" will be a remake of Moustapha Akkad's "The Message," a 1977 Hollywood classic starring Anthony Quinn which is often applauded by Muslims as an example of how commercial Western cinema can respect Islam.

"We have only the utmost respect for Akkad's work but technology in cinema has advanced since the 1970s and this latest project will employ modern film techniques in its renewal of the first film's core messages," producer Oscar Zoghbi, who worked on the original, said in a statement.

Akkad, the Syrian-born executive producer of Hollywood's "Halloween" horror films, was killed in a suicide bomb attack by al Qaeda on a luxury hotel in Jordan's capital Amman in 2005.

In the original "Message," the Prophet and his companions were heard speaking off-camera but never directly shown, in accordance with Muslim conventions forbidding their visual depiction.

Portrayals of Mohammad have triggered anger in recent years. Danish cartoons of him ignited protests, some deadly, by Muslims in many countries in 2006. The offices of a British publisher were attacked in September over a novel about the Prophet's child bride.

"In the 21st century there is a real need for a film that emotionally engages audiences on the journey that led to the birth of Islam," the statement quoted the film's scriptwriter Ramsey Thomas as saying.

A spokesman for the producers said in an email to Reuters that details of the funding and production of the planned film would be released "in due course."

The events of the Prophet's life took place mainly in Mecca and Medina, Islamic holy cities in modern Saudi Arabia.

(Writing by Andrew Hammond; editing by Andrew Roche)

Original here

Studios Are Pushing Box Office Winners as Oscar Contenders

By MICHAEL CIEPLY and BROOKS BARNES

LOS ANGELES — Walt Disney is in. This week the studio will break new ground by starting a campaign that boldly offers its “Wall-E” as a contender for the best picture Oscar, an honor never yet won by an animated film.

Warner Brothers is in, too. That studio recently telegraphed plans for a multifront Oscar campaign for its Batman blockbuster “The Dark Knight” by sending awards voters a query about their preferred format for promotional DVDs.

Not to be outdone, Paramount may join the party. Along with Marvel Enterprises, it is weighing an Oscar push for “Iron Man” and its lead actor, Robert Downey Jr., even while promoting Mr. Downey as best supporting actor for his role in the DreamWorks comedy hit “Tropic Thunder.”

Welcome to the pop Oscars.

After years of giving plenty of running room to independent film companies or studio art house divisions that set the pace with critic-friendly but limited-audience films like last year’s “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood,” this year the major studios are pushing some of their biggest crowd-pleasers into the thick of the awards race.

Their approaching multimillion-dollar campaigns come at a time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose 6,000-plus members award the Oscars, is planning to give its annual show a more commercially popular flavor. In part the academy’s producers will do that by including glimpses of the year’s box office favorites, whether or not they are nominated for prizes.

The shift is coming about partly because companies in the last year have either folded specialty divisions like Warner Independent Films, which in 2006 had a best picture nominee in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” or downsized them, as Paramount did with Paramount Vantage, which in 2007 had a nominee in “Babel.”

Shrinkage in the small-film business has left more room for big studios to play the Oscar game. Awaiting awards pushes are films like Universal’s “Frost/Nixon,” directed by Ron Howard; Paramount’s “Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a David Fincher film starring Brad Pitt; and 20th Century Fox’s “Australia,” a Baz Luhrmann epic starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman.

(“Australia,” still unseen by critics, does not arrive until Nov. 26 but was screened in unfinished form for Oprah Winfrey, who is expected to feature it with star interviews on her show next week, kicking off the studio’s campaign.)

At the same time Hollywood’s blockbusters, rich in effects and increasingly complex in their themes, appear to have become more award-worthy of late.

“Wall-E,” from Disney’s Pixar unit, emerged as a darling of the critics for its adult sensibility, in addition to its heavily detailed computer animation. The film, the story of a lovesick robot, tackles a serious topic (environmentalism) while taking huge risks (for instance, a 45-minute stretch with nearly no dialogue).

As early as midsummer Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal’s film critic, was arguing that “Wall-E” should be considered for best picture. “The time to start the drumbeat is now,” he wrote in a July 12 essay, noting the extreme difficulty animated films, while hugely popular, have faced in vying for the most prestigious Oscar. Only one, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” released in 1991, has ever been nominated for best picture.

“If we didn’t do it, I don’t think we’d be giving the movie its due,” Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, said of the decision to promote “Wall-E” for the top prize, even if that complicates the movie’s simultaneous bid for the more easily won award as best animated feature. One problem is a presumed tendency to split votes. Academy members can vote for a film in both the best picture and best animated feature categories. But they may not be inclined to do that or even know that the rules permit it.

In the past films more appealing than self-consciously artistic were routinely included in the Oscar mix. “Ghost,” the No. 1 movie at the box office in 1990, with $506 million in worldwide ticket sales, won five nominations, including one for best picture. “There was much less campaigning back then, and the academy tended to go more with what moved them emotionally, even if it was a big commercial hit,” said Lisa Weinstein, a producer of “Ghost.”

The last runaway hit to win a best picture Oscar was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in 2003. In the years since the prize has gone to “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash,” “The Departed” and “No Country for Old Men” — the combined domestic box office sales for which fell short of the $377 million taken in by “The Return of the King.”

The drift away from audience-oriented contenders has precipitated a sharp drop in viewers for the annual Oscar show. Last year’s program, with Jon Stewart as host, was the least watched on record, with about 32 million viewers in the United States. The highest rating was 55.3 million in 1998, when the immensely popular “Titanic” won the big prize.

Ultimately, of course, the academy’s voting members will decide whether the year’s more popular and mainstream offerings make the cut. They will have plenty of artier options, including “Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme’s intricate look at a family coping with a drug-addicted daughter played by Anne Hathaway, and “Revolutionary Road,” a period romance directed by Sam Mendes and starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. “Slumdog Millionaire,” from the director Danny Boyle, and “Milk,” directed by Gus Van Sant with Sean Penn in the lead role, are also in the running — all with backing from studio specialty divisions.

Studio Oscar campaigners are largely reluctant to discuss their reasoning and strategies publicly for fear of overreaching with the academy’s finicky voters. However, several noted a belief that audiences — weary of economic crisis and political strife — are ready for a dose of fun from the entertainment industry.

“People like to vote for winners, and this year there are box office winners that also exhibit incredible craft,” said Amanda Lundberg, a partner at the New York publicity firm 42 West, an Oscar campaign powerhouse.

In that spirit, Disney will open its “Wall-E” campaign with something of a wink, by taking an advertisement that transforms the logo of a famous industry trade paper to read “Variet-E.” Warner’s campaign for “The Dark Knight” will get a boost from both a Dec. 9 DVD release and an expected rerelease, on both standard and Imax screens, as the awards season peaks in January.

If, as expected, “Iron Man” comes into the awards mix, that will be partly because Paramount recently moved a more conventional prospect, a drama called “The Soloist,” into next year and out of contention. That film, which stars Mr. Downey alongside Jamie Foxx, had promised to complicate the studio’s life at a time when it saw awards potential for the currently very hot Mr. Downey in three pictures at once.

Meanwhile, those who create the Oscar ceremony — to be shown on Feb. 22 on ABC — are determined this time around to connect with the people, and lots of them.

The academy has lifted a 50-year ban on commercials for coming movies during the Oscar telecast in the hope of creating more of a feeling of “event” television for movie fans by including more splashy ads. Organizers (and ABC’s advertising sales staff) are hoping to take a page from the Super Bowl, at which movie studios have often shown exclusive footage of big-budget summer movies to start generating fan interest.

And there will most certainly be superheroes and villains present on Oscar night, whether or not Mr. Downey receives a nomination for his role as Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” or Heath Ledger is nominated for his portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

“Not only should the Oscar show celebrate excellence in the movies of the year; we believe it should also celebrate the movies,” said Laurence Mark, the producer of the next ceremony, sounding what has become a theme for the year.

“We just need to figure out a way that is appropriate to do that.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 29, 2008
An article on Tuesday about efforts by major Hollywood studios to promote their movies for Academy Awards misstated the release date of “Australia,” a 20th Century Fox film. It is scheduled to be released in the United States on Nov. 26, not in December.

Original here