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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rock fans head to Iowa to recall day music died

music-20090127-Music.Buddy.Holly

Flowers adorn a memorial, Friday, Jan. 9, 2009, at the spot where the plane ...

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — It's been 50 years since a single-engine plane crashed into a snow-covered Iowa field, instantly killing three men whose names would become enshrined in the history of rock 'n' roll.

The passing decades haven't diminished fascination with that night on Feb. 2, 1959, when 22-year-old Buddy Holly, 28-year-old J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and 17-year-old Ritchie Valens performed in Clear Lake and then boarded the plane for a planned 300-mile flight that lasted only minutes.

"It was really like the first rock 'n' roll landmark; the first death," said rock historian Jim Dawson, who has written several books about music of that era. "They say these things come in threes. Well, all three happened at the same time."

Starting Wednesday, thousands of people are expected to gather in the small northern Iowa town where the rock pioneers gave their last performance. They'll come to the Surf Ballroom for symposiums with the three musicians' relatives, sold-out concerts and a ceremony as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designates the building as its ninth national landmark.

And they'll discuss why after so many years, so many people still care about what songwriter Don McLean so famously called "the day the music died."

"It was the locus point for that last performance by these great artists," said Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. "It warrants being fixed in time."

Clear Lake is an unlikely spot for a rock 'n' roll pilgrimage — especially in winter. The resort town of about 8,000 borders its namesake lake, and on winter days the cold and wind make the community 100 miles north of Des Moines anything but a tourist destination.

The crash site is on private property, a five-mile drive from Clear Lake and half-mile walk off the road. Corn grows high in adjacent fields during the summer, but in winter the fields are covered with snow and a path to the small memorial is often thick with ice. The memorial features a small cross and thin metal guitar and records, all of which are draped in flowers during the summer.

"It's a much nicer trip in the summer," said Jeff Nicholas, a longtime Clear Lake resident who heads the Surf Ballroom's board of directors. "But in the winter, you get more of a feel of what it was like."

No one tracks the number of visitors, but fans stop by throughout the year and on some summer days visitors to the crash site can create the oddity of a corn field traffic jam.

Stewart said the deaths still resonate because they occurred at a time when rock 'n' roll was going through a transition, of sorts. The sound of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Holly was making way for the British Invasion of the mid-1960s.

"The music was shifting and changing at that point," he said. "The crash put a punctuation point on the change."

All three musicians influenced rock and roll in their own way.

Holly's career was short, but his hiccup-vocal style, guitar play and songwriting talents had tremendous influence on later performers. The Beatles, who formed about the time of the crash, were among his early fans and fashioned their name after Holly's band, The Crickets. Holly's hit songs include "That'll Be The Day," "Peggy Sue" and "Maybe Baby."

Richardson, "The Big Bopper," is often credited with creating the first music video with his recorded performance of "Chantilly Lace" in 1958, decades before MTV.

And Valens was one of the first musicians to apply a Mexican influence to rock 'n' roll. He recorded his huge hit "La Bamba" only months before the accident.

The plane left the airport in nearby Mason City about 1 a.m., headed for Moorhead, Minn., with the musicians looking for a break from a tiring, cold bus trip through the Upper Midwest.

It wasn't until hours later that the demolished plane was found, crumpled against a wire fence. Investigators believe the pilot, who also died, became confused amid the dark, snowy conditions and rammed the plane into the ground.

The crash set off a wave of mourning among their passionate, mostly young fans across the country. Then 12 years later the crash was immortalized as "the day the music died" in McLean's 1971 song, "American Pie."

Vonnie Amosson, who manages the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Clear Lake, said that ever since the plane crash, the community has embraced the tragedy. It's a continues stream of tourism dollars, and the town's chamber of commerce estimates that this year's events, dubbed "50s in February," will generate more than $4 million for Clear Lake's economy.

"It's kind of sad that that is what we are known for," Amosson said. "But on the other part of it, I think the whole '50's in February' weekend is a huge memorial and it's an honor to them."

In part because of its role in rock history, the Surf Ballroom has retained its vintage look, with a 6,000-square-foot dance floor, ceiling painted to resemble a sky, and original cloud machines on either side of the room. Ten Buddy Holly banners line the wall opposite the stage. The 2,100-capacity ballroom still hosts many national and regional performers, most of whom add their names to a backstage wall that is now crowded with drawings and signatures.

"It's quite a special place," said Nicholas, the Surf board member. "This place looks just like it did in 1959."

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Problem with Extending Copyright on Music

Written by Ben Jones

Several studies have shown that an extension of copyright on sound recordings is a bad idea. It will lead to less competition and higher prices while only the record labels benefit from it. Next Tuesday, the Open Rights Group will be hosting a round-table event to discuss performance copyright extension in the EU.

Last summer, we covered how Commissioner McCreevy intends to increase the length of copyright on performances, from their current 50 year length to 95 years. This was to ‘help’ those artists who just didn’t get paid enough over those 50 years, and are in danger of being penniless. The Open Rights Group (ORG) believes that that is unacceptable. It has co-produced a video explaining why this is a bad idea on the Commissions behalf, and has set up a meeting in Brussels with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to discuss this.

The Directive, due to be voted on some time in the near future, will mainly be to the benefit of large record label, and not small artists and session players, as proponents claim. In a speech last month, though, Commissioner McCreevy countered that argument, saying “To that criticism can I say that the average annual pay-out might not appear significant to academic critics, but €2,000 (£1,760) extra per year is significant to an average session player.”

The reality though, is very different. Even EU backed studies have found significant downsides to any extension, with the only study supporting an extension coming from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) – the British music lobby group. Even Andrew Gowers, author of the independent Gowers Report into ‘intellectual property’ has recommended against an extension.

Thus the Open Rights Group has decided to try and educate MEPs. It will be holding a meeting with them, to try and bring attention to the problems and negative aspects of the directive. It has also created the following video to explain to those that can’t be there.

The meeting is free to attend, and will include people with experience in the industry. If you’re interested in attending, details are available here

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And the Oscar goes to... Oscar

By Mark Feeney

What a difference a preposition makes. Oscar for is one thing - Oscar in is quite another. Rare as it is for a film to win an Academy Award, it's rarer still for a film to include an Academy Awards scene. Usually, the scene's played for laughs; and when it's not, maybe it ought to be. Either way, it's Hollywood self-congratulation at its ripest. With this year's nominations announced last Thursday and the big night only four weeks away, here's a look at Oscar onscreen.

"Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" (1994)

The envelope with the name of the best picture winner contains a bomb, and Leslie Nielsen's Frank Drebin - masquerading as Phil Donahue! - is on the case. He crashes the chorus line of a Pia Zadora production number, tackles Raquel Welch, and reverse peristalts into a tuba. Imagine what he might have done if Barbara Walters had interviewed him beforehand.

"Chaplin" (1992)

The climax of this biopic about the comic legend is his receiving an honorary Academy Award at the 1972 ceremonies. Robert Downey Jr. earned a best actor nomination in the title role. And, if that's not confusing enough, it's Downey who gets to present the best actor Oscar in "Tropic Thunder."

"Tropic Thunder" (2008)

The only way to come up with an untoppable finish for such a procession of can-you-top-this movie-biz outrageousness is, of course, with an Oscar ceremony. Who needs a takeoff on "Apocalypse Now" when you can have a takeoff on the Academy Awards now?

"A Star Is Born"(1937)

Janet Gaynor has just won the best actress Oscar. So who should stumble in and interrupt her acceptance speech but her drunk husband, Fredric March? He's a past Oscar winner himself (March as well as his character), so he's presumably entitled to dismiss the statuette as "that little piece of bric-a-brac." What he's not entitled to do is slap Gaynor, which he also does, albeit inadvertently.

"A Star Is Born" (1954)

The greatest of all movie-Oscar moments consists of three words, all but trumpeted by Judy Garland as she clutches her statuette: "Mrs. . . . Norman . . . Maine!" James Mason's performance, as Mr. Norman Maine, is pretty good, too. Ditto Garland's rendition of "The Man that Got Away."

"The Oscar" (1966)

Ruthless movie star Frankie Fane (Stephen Boyd) is desperate to win a you-know-what. You'd think the oddest thing about this famous stinker-oo would be the presence of so many Oscar winners in the cast: Ernest Borgnine, Broderick Crawford, Walter Brennan, Ed Begley. No, it's Tony Bennett, in his sole dramatic screen role, as Fane's best friend, Hymie Kelly. The improbability of the character's name is, alas, matched by the improbability of Bennett's performance.

"The Bodyguard" (1992) Whitney Houston has just won best actress. She goes up to accept her award. Security man Kevin Costner

realizes she's about to be shot. He rushes on stage to interpose himself between Whitney and shooter (in slo-mo, no less). Watch for Debbie Reynolds's hissy cameo. Now that they should have shot in slow motion.

"In & Out" (1997)

Making an Oscar acceptance speech, Matt Dillon thanks Kevin Kline, his high school English teacher back home in Indiana, for inspiring Dillon's performance as a gay soldier. Kline is gay? Bad enough that millions of television viewers worldwide hear this. So does Kline's fiancee, the ever-sublime Joan Cusack. Complications most certainly ensue.

"California Suite" (1978)

Maggie Smith won a best supporting actress Oscar for playing a character nominated as best actress. Does that make sense? Michael Caine is her antiques-dealer husband. "I hope you win the bloody Oscar," he says, trying to buck up her spirits in the limo to the ceremony. "Fifty years from now I'll be able to sell it for a fortune." Although the actual ceremony isn't shown, there's a red carpet sequence, as well as the tail end of what looks to be a very dull post-Oscar party.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Barack Obama 'kidnaps' 24 hero Jack Bauer

By Tim Shipman in Washington

Jack Bauer: Barack Obama 'kidnaps' 24 hero Jack Bauer
US conservatives say Jack Bauer from 24 has been 'kidnapped' by the new liberal agenda of President-Elect Barack Obama.

As the hero of the television action series, Bauer became a modern icon of rugged American values and a fictional flag waver for the Bush administration's determination to defeat terrorists.

The intelligence agent, played by Keifer Sutherland, has never been afraid to torture or shoot to kill while tackling villainous foreigners intent on waging war on the American homeland.

But now US conservatives are up in arms that the election of President-Elect Barack Obama has led the show's producers to pander to the liberal consensus in Hollywood, which they claim has led to the blacklisting of those who disagree with their anti-war views.

When the series returns for its seventh season on Sunday night, Bauer will mouth the views of Mr Obama, who has vowed to end "enhanced interrogation", also known as torture, and close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

And in an apparent bid to get in tune with the new president, the new season opens with Bauer facing a congressional investigation probing his use of torture and summary executions in previous series. "It's better that everything comes out in the open," Bauer says, echoing Democrat demands for greater transparency over US counter-terrorist tactics.

"We've done so many things in the name of protecting this country, we've created two worlds. Ours and the people's we've promised to protect. They deserve to hear the truth and decide how far they want to let us go."

The transformation of Bauer has left the American Right fuming.

"It's clearly a sign the producers are trying to adapt to a new political reality," said the conservative commentator Christian Toto.

"That approach might generate a few new fans, but it could turn off those who saw 24 as that rare Hollywood product that took the threat of terrorism seriously - and didn't feel the need to rationalise taking extreme measures to protect the innocent."

The capture of Bauer by the Hollywood's liberal elite comes as conservatives in the entertainment industry are complaining that their support for the war in Iraq has made them victims of a Left-wing witch hunt.

A new book by an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, published later this month, claims that those with conservative views are victims of an informal blacklist, like the McCarthy-era ban on communist sympathisers in Hollywood during the 1950s.

Roger Simon, who penned the scripts to Enemies: A Love Story and Scenes From a Mall, said that those who oppose the liberal anti-war consensus in Hollywood have been ostracised by the major studios and television networks.

In his book Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror, Simon writes: "I am sure this new form of the blacklist exists, but not nearly to the formalised extent of the original list of the Forties and Fifties with its dramatic hearings in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee."

He says the new blacklist "operates through an almost invisible thought control" in which writers, actors and directors who refuse to join in the chorus of condemnation against President George W. Bush and his wars faced career death over the last eight years.

He claims anyone voicing support for the war "would be dismissed as a fool, a warmonger, or a right-wing nut (all three, probably) and therefore have had little or no chance at the writing or directing job that brought you there."

Conservative actors are few and far between. Only the Die Hard star Bruce Willis, Kelsey Grammer of Frasier fame and the Oscar winners Jon Voight and Robert Duvall have any real clout.

When the novelist and film director Michael Crichton, the creator of Jurassic Park, died on the day Mr Obama was elected, his passing received little publicity, conservatives claim, because he wrote a thriller questioning the liberal consensus on global warming.

Even Arnold Schwarznegger, the former film star and Republican Governor of California is seen as a captive of the Left because of his liberal environmental policies.

But some conservatives are fighting back. Last week activists in the entertainment industry launched a new website to rally support from conservative voters for films and television programmes that reflect their values.

They believe that the recent glut of anti-war films that bombed at the box office - including Rendition, which starred Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal; In the Valley of Elah, featuring Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron and Lambs for Lions, Robert Redford's political drama with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep - are proof that Hollywood is out of touch with the American public.

Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the new Hollywood site, issued a call to arms: "Until conservatives, libertarians and Republicans - who will be the lion's share of Big Hollywood's contributors - recognise that (pop) culture is the big prize and that politics is secondary, there will be no victory in this important battle."

Michael Wilson, director of the documentary Michael Moore Hates America, said Hollywood and grassroots conservatives need to fight harder to "impart their ideas into pop culture" by putting up the money for films that hide a conservative message in a popular format.

He said: "Hollywood doesn't like us. They don't like our pro-American, pro-liberty, self-interested way of life, and they certainly don't think our ideas would work on film.

"The trick to transforming the very real liberal bias in Hollywood is to change the formula that Hollywood uses by finding and financing films and television projects that engage people emotionally first and speak to ideology second."

Original here

The Five Least Straight Moments in "Bromance"

by Daniel Murphy

bro•mance \bro-'man(t)s\ n : (1) the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males, often exhibited through physical acts such as wrestling, playing sports, and half-hugging. Ex: "Shut up, Monica! Chandler and I share a bromance that you'll never understand!"

vb : (1) The act of going to unusual lengths in order to woo a male friend. Ex: "Jeff from accounting hasn't accepted my friend request, so my plan is to bromance him with some Knicks tickets."

proper n : (1) MTV's new reality television show starring The Hills alumnus Brody Jenner as a d-bag man searching for a fellow d-bag man to join his posse of friends, through a process involving intimate chats and outrageous physical challenges, the likes of which manage to achieve a level of unintentional homoeroticism not reached since the Grecian Olympic era of girded loins.


The Half-Naked Capture

Because first impressions are so important, Brody kicks off the show by sending his goon squad (Note: Sleazy-T is the only person ever to get herpes on principle) to wake up everyone and drag them, in their underwear and with bags over their heads, to the bro-mansion. (Pause for dry heave.) Allow me to spare you: Everyone ends up in a circle on his knees until Jenner gives the cue, "Take em off!" Clearly, this is what friendship is all about. If you can't fake kidnap your pals, who can you fake kidnap? (Answer: Not kids. Seriously, it's never funny.)


Hard Knocks

In an emotional one-on-one chat called a broprah (there goes the gag reflex!), Femi opens up about how he's been through "so much" in his life. Now, without getting all stereotype-y here, I think it's safe to assume that when someone talks about "tough times" there'll be mention of drugs, death, gangs, poverty, etc. But, hey, hold the phones! Call off the war in Iraq, because Femi was SUSPENDED FROM SCHOOL! Plus, he's on his period. Hard knocks, man.


Birthday Card of Pain

Here, Frankie gets jealous when Mike gives Brody a card saying Frankie better watch out because Mike is gonna be Brody's new BFF. Here's an idea: How about being jealous of me because when I walk into a restaurant no one says, "Hey, that's the guy who's friends with the guy who's on that reality show about men who sign their birthday cards 'BFF'."


Serenade

Ironically, this is exactly how I became friends with my best bud in college. We were at the same bar one night, and suddenly he just hopped up on this tiny makeshift stage and grabbed the mic away from some dude with a guitar. And right then and there he sings this beautiful love rap song about me. Then he took off his shirt. We got tattoos together, right then and there. It's a more common story than you might think.


Hot Tub Elimination Round

Clearly you would hold the elimination round in a hot tub. Clearly. Where else are you going to do it? I mean, the shower's too small for everyone to fit. So, yeah -- the hot tub. And as Brody goes down the line choosing who is safe, that person leaves the hot tub, until there is only one person left in the tub, and he's the one who is eliminated. Then he gets out of the hot tub and everyone who wasn't eliminated gets back in for a celebratory drink. I left out that part of the video because, I promise you -- scratch that, I bromise you the image will never be more perfect than it is in your brain right now.

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Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard On Composing the Score to The Dark Knight

by: David Chen

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t too crazy about the scores to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films at first. I probably own more of composer Hans Zimmer’s albums (in CD form) than anyone else I know, and I’ve always admired Zimmer’s ability to weave in soaring themes in the midst of intense action happening on screen. When I first watched Batman Begins I was looking forward to a kickass Batman theme on par with Elfman’s immortal score for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Of course, Zimmer and fellow rock star composer and collaborator James Newton Howard had other plans.

At first, I was disappointed. But I’ve come around.

While the new Batman films, and in particular The Dark Knight, still feature a distinct Batman theme, it’s not very prominent, always lurking around the edges. Nonetheless, What Zimmer and Howard have created with the soundtrack to The Dark Knight is a wonderful, breathtaking piece of movie music, part atmosphere, part melodic brilliance that is the perfect accompaniment to the images and sounds of Nolan’s film. After listening to The Dark Knight soundtrack a few dozen times, I can safely say that rarely has such a perfect fusion of music and cinematic themes taken place.

Santa Monica’s KCRW recently conducted an interview with both Zimmer and Newton Howard in which they spoke about the process of composing the score. The whole interview is worth taking a listen to but I wanted to direct your attention to a few parts that I really appreciated. First of all, the two explain how their collaboration worked, which was fascinating given how accomplished they both are separately very accomplished composers.

For the most part, the score seemed like a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. According to Howard, “After Batman Begins…we were either going to succeed or not speak to each other anymore. We ended up being even better friends than we were. The combination of the two of us has really become the voice of the score. So it’s no longer any kind of a liability…If either Hans did the whole score or I did the whole score it would not be the same.” Zimmer further explained, “On the first one, there wasn’t a piece that wasn’t touched by both of us…The weird thing was, by it being the two of us, it had to be a conversation. It involved Chris Nolan very much…” Simultaneously, some of the musical identities of the film were separate, allowing Howard and Zimmer to split some of the work; while Howard took on Harvey Dent’s theme, Zimmer handled the Joker.

Zimmer described some of his inspiration behind Joker’s “theme,” saying: “I kept churning around…how do you describe anarchy, how do you describe a villian and not do it in a way that’s been done before? One of the things I got very much from the character was a fearlessness, and an evenness in a way. The Joker is the only person you can trust in the movie. The Joker is the only one who will never lie to you because he is consistent about his philosophy…I really wanted to do the whole thing just with one note. I had this idea that rather than what a note is in the context of the notes surrounding it, what could I do emotionally through a performance within one note? How much can I stretch the meaning of a single note and get it down to such minimalism. I failed slightly. I had to use two notes in the end.”

Why didn’t they write a big theme for Batman? “We actually received a lot of grief about that, from a lot of people,” said Howard. “‘Why didn’t you write a big theme for Batman?’ Because it wouldn’t have worked.”

Finally, Zimmer pointed out some of the challenges of working as a film composer in general, saying: “Once you get the job of being the film composer the moment you say yes to the movie and you sit down to write it becomes the antithesis of creativity in a funny way because of the pressure of having the burden of being the last person in line that could make or break this movie. Just the idea of very often having to fit within the framework of something else is not what we imagine to be the best creative playing field, which is freedom and imagination and chaos to a certain degree. But that’s where the relationships come in.”

Original here

'I squirmed in my seat,' says Nicole Kidman as she reveals embarrassment at her performance in Australia epic

By Richard Shears

Nicole Kidman

Embarrassed: Nicole Kidman 'squirmed' as she watched her performance in Australia

It was expected to be the blockbuster that saved Australia's tourist industry - because with 'local star' Nicole Kidman in the key role, where could it go wrong?

But in her eyes, her role in the £50 million movie Australia was a flop.

She admits in an astonishing interview with a Sydney radio station that she couldn't bear to watch it when she attended the premiere in the harbour city in November.

Miss Kidman, who plays an English aristocrat who falls for a cowboy played by fellow Australian Hugh Jackman as they drive a herd of cattle across the outback, told radio station 2dayFM that she couldn't look at the movie and be proud of what she had done.

In fact, she revealed, she 'squirmed' in her seat throughout the Sydney premiere.

Miss Kidman, who attended the premiere with country singer husband Keith Urban, said: 'I can't look at this movie and be proud of what I've done.

'I sat there and I looked at Keith and went "Am I any good in this movie?"

'But I thought Brandon Walters (an 11-year-old Aboriginal boy) and Hugh Jackman were wonderful.


'It's just impossible for me to connect to it emotionally at all.'

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman

Steamy moment: Kidman in a passionate scene with co-star Hugh Jackman

She said she was so nervous about her performance that she fled Australia as soon as the premiere was over with her husband and their five-month-old daughter Sunday Rose.

'We ran because I didn't want to read anything. I didn't want to know.

'I saw my sister and my family and we saw Keith's family and then we were straight on a plane.'

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman

Blockbuster: Kidman and Jackman in the £50million movie Australia

She said she had only attended the premiere to please director Baz Luhrmann, with whom she made 'Moulin Rouge'.

'I don't usually see my films, but because of Baz I had to see it. I saw "Moulin Rouge".

'I've really only seen that and this in my whole career.

Child star: Kidman said 11-year-old Aboriginal boy Brandon Walters was 'wonderful' in the film

'It gets worse as I get older.'

The film opened poorly in the US and reviewers described her performance as brittle, frozen and vapid.

Miss Kidman has already hinted that she might slow down her movie
career and perhaps have another baby.

Keith Urban and wife Nicole Kidman

Baby plans: Nicole and husband Keith Urban have hinted they may want another child

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‘Batman 3’ Update: Christopher Nolan & David Goyer ‘Talking,’ Says ‘Dark Knight’ Producer

Published by Rick Marshall

During last night’s People’s Choice Awards, “The Dark Knight” producer Chuck Roven cleared up some of the speculation surrounding the sequel to the celebrated Batman blockbuster, telling MTV that director Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer are indeed “talking and thinking” about the next film.

While Roven’s comments seem to indicate that Nolan and Goyer will be returning for the sequel (Nolan was noncommittal to a “Dark Knight” sequel in the past, and Goyer declared any and all sequel rumors “B.S.” back in October), it doesn’t address the two questions most comics fans are dying to know the answers to: What villains will appear in the film and who will play them?

Well, there could be at least one clue in Roven’s response.

“We have to separate the actors from the role,” said Roven when asked whether they would’ve done anything different with Heath Ledger’s villainous Joker if they knew the actor wouldn’t be reprising the role.

“On a personal level, Heath was a friend of mine. We had worked together before ‘The Dark Knight,’ but I still think that ‘The Dark Knight’ is its own thing, and we have to separate them,” added Roven.

Could that mean they’re open to re-casting The Joker? Will we see The Clown Prince of Crime return for the “Dark Knight” sequel? Keep an eye on Splash Page for more “Dark Knight” sequel news as it develops!

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Ten of the Worst Movies Ever Released in January

There's a science to releasing movies, a time-tested methodology that studios have refined to maximize profits by premiering certain films at certain times of the year. Some months are traditionally great for date movies, others for family fare, and so on. The rules are constantly changing, but there's one release rule that seems pretty consistent through Hollywood's history - if a movie is being released in January, it's probably a big piece of crap.

Sure, there are some exceptions - Cloverfield did quite well with its January premiere last year - but, all in all, January is Hollywood's garbage dump month, the time of year where the studios toss out every misguided, misfired, mismanaged embarrassment they can't believe they ever greenlit and pray that everyone is either too fatigued by the holidays or is trying to hard to catch up on December's Oscar releases to even notice or care. Just look at what we've got coming up this month - Bride Wars, The Unborn, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Underworld 3 (a prequel!)... it's pretty rough out there. To celebrate the movie industry's long history of beyond-appalling New Year premieres, here are ten of the WORST films ever released in the unholy movie-month of January. (February simply can't come quick enough.)

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1. One Missed Call (January 4, 2008)

This one is almost too easy to pick on. It's widely considered to be one of the worst of 2008, many are citing it as the death of American Japanese horror remakes (which probably should've come three years ago), AND it scored the legendary 0% rating at RottenTomatoes.com. That means not ONE critic, not even those quote-spewing local affiliates, rose to Ed Burns' defense. We're sure there's some sort of "One Missed Call MISSED the mark" pun to be had here, but we're think that the dead horse is probably already dead.

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2. Firestorm (January 9, 1998)

Can't remember Firestorm? It's about Howie Long - former NFL star and current Fox Football commentator - as a smokejumpin' fireman who plunges into a blazing forest fire to take down some escaped cons who've taken a bird-watcher hostage. That's right. They took an ornithologist hostage. Maybe your brain is actively suppressing any memories of Firestorm.

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3. The Relic (January 10, 1997)

If you ask us, this is probably the movie that started Tom Sizemore's drug problem. Honestly, you'd have to self-mediate to get through this faux-Crichton mish-mash of CGI awfulness from the director of Timecop and End of Days.

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4. Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (January 12, 1996)

The sheer existence of this movie is much, much scarier than its plotline. THIS is the movie that made sure that virtual reality would never be taken seriously as either a scientific concept or (especially) as a premise for a horror movie. Plus they couldn't get Jeff Fahey back for the role of Jobe. They couldn't get back JEFF FAHEY? Star of Darkman 3: Die, Darkman, Die? Wow.

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5. Death Wish V: The Face of Death (January 14, 1994)

This movie made us angry on several levels. Mostly because Charles Bronson PROMISED that Death Wish 4 would be the absolute last and because, since everything about this movie was so half-assed, sloppily thrown-together, and lazy, we can only assume that the "Face of Death" was referring to Bronson's bored visage, which just seemed to scream to audiences, "Please... let me die...."

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6. Elektra (January 14, 2005)

This movie made Daredevil look like The Dark Knight. That's right. Elektra made Daredevil - the movie with Ben Affleck as a blind, pill-popping Spider-Man-wannabe fighting a scenery-chewing Colin Farrell (who had his flamboyant level turned up high enough to make Joel Schumacher blush).... we're talking about THAT movie - look Oscar-worthy in comparison. After Jen Garner did him a favor like that, maybe that's why Ben popped the question.

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7. Torque (January 16, 2004)

Torque is a multi-million-dollar movie that was apparently directed by a four-year-old playing with toy motorcycles. "Yay, now my motorcycle jumps on the train! Yay! Now my motorcycle upside down! Yay! Now my motorcycle eating my snack! YAY!" Torque proves that, in a world without physics, any idiot with a mediocre CGI budget and no common sense can be king.

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8. The Gingerbread Man (January 23, 1998)

We're including this one for two reasons - 1). It's epically ineffective, dull, and disappointing, and 2). There's no reason it should've been, given the talent involved. This is a movie based on a John Grisham book, directed by Robert Altman (THE Robert Altman), and starring Kenneth Branagh (crazy miscast as a Southerner), and it represents probably the worst work all three have ever done.

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9. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (January 25, 2002)

There are some people - Woody Allen, Steve Martin, etc. - who are talented enough filmmakers and comedians that they can figure out ways to seamlessly either edit themselves into old movie footage or edit together such footage to create something wholly new and completely hilarious. And then there's Steve Oedekerk. 'Nuff said.

**********

10. Eye of the Beholder (January 28, 1999)

Easily the worst thing that Ewan McGregor has ever done (and we're counting the Star Wars prequels). The director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert brings us a serial killer movie so boring, pointless, and vague that you'll barely remember the "plot" even while you're watching the damn thing.

**********

Runners Up:

Code Name: The Cleaner (January 5, 2007); BloodRayne (January 6, 2005); White Noise (January 7, 2005); My Baby's Daddy (January 9, 2004); In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (January 11, 2007); Tuff Turf (January 11, 1985); Virus (January 15, 1999); Kangaroo Jack (January 17, 2003); Alone in the Dark (January 28, 2005); Car 54, Where Are You? (January 28, 1994); Hide and Seek (January 28, 2005)

**********

And, now, since you occasionally can't help loving a movie that you know, deep down, is bad...

SEVEN HORRIBLE JANUARY-RELEASED MOVIES THAT WE SECRETLY LOVE:

1. Cabin Boy (January 7, 1994) - C'mon, it was produced by Tim Burton, has a great cast, and the David Letterman cameo is EPIC.

2. Leprechaun (January 8, 1993) - Forget Marley. THIS is the highlight of Jennifer Aniston's film career.

3. Warlock (January 11, 1989) - Who can't find it in their hearts to love Withnail & I's Richard E. Grant playing a lusty Scottish monster-fighter battling against Julian Sands with salt?

4. Angel (January 13, 1984) - Easily our favorite cheesy teen-turned-prostitute movie ever. That is, until we saw Paris Hilton's The Hottie and the Nottie.

5. Freejack (January 17, 1992) - A bizarrely watchable, goofy-as-hell sci-fi throwback with Anthony Hopkins, a smirking Mick Jagger, and Emilo Estevez. Plus it tells us that, when Rene Russo ages 20 years, she only gets one gray streak in her hair. That's awesome.

6. Troll (January 17, 1986) - Because it made Troll 2 possible, which, in case you haven't heard, is in the running for the Best Worst Movie EVER award and, man-oh-man, does it deserve it.

7. Phantoms (January 23, 1998) - Never before has a bad horror movie been solely redeemed by a single Kevin Smith one-liner. Yes, Ben Affleck is the bomb in Phantoms and, unbelievably, Peter O'Toole shows up too.

Original here

Exclusive: An Open Letter From 'Watchmen' Producers

Posted by Drew McWeeny

Drmanhattanwatch_article_story_main
Dr. Manhattan in Zack Snyder's "Watchmen."
Credit: Warner Bros.

I recently heard from Lloyd Levin, one of the producers of this year's hotly-anticipated adaptation of "Watchmen," and he wanted to get in touch regarding the ongoing conversation about the legal battle that's been raging back and forth between Warner Bros. and Fox.

There's been a lot of virtual ink spilled in the last six months about the rights and the wrongs of this lawsuit, and it all boils down to two separate agreements. There's a 1991 quitclaim that was issued by Fox, and then a 1994 turnaround agreement, and when the federal judge issues his verdict on January 20th, those are the two things he'll be considering.

But is that enough?

Does that really answer the issue?

Lloyd told me that his own feelings on the matter were complicated, and the more we spoke, the more it became apparent that he had something he really wanted to share with people, some point he needed to make in this larger conversation, and so I offered him an unfiltered venue in which to do so. The following is an open letter that Lloyd wrote regarding the "Watchmen" lawsuit and, more importantly, the 20-year-struggle to wrestle this project onto the screen.

It's provocative stuff, and I'm glad he decided to share his thoughts. For once, this isn't just empty speculation from the outside, but the opinion of someone intimately involved in the entire thing.

Check it out:

"Watchmen. A producer's perspective.

An open letter.

Who is right? In the Watchmen dispute between Warner Brothers and Fox that question is being discussed, analyzed, argued, tried and ruled on in a court of law. That's one way to answer the question - It is a fallback position in our society for parties in conflict to resolve disputes. And there are teams of lawyers and a highly regarded Federal Judge trying to do just that, which obviates any contribution I could make towards answering the "who is right" question within a legal context. But after 15 plus years of involvement in the project, and a decade more than that working in the movie business, I have another perspective, a personal perspective that I believe important to have on the public record.

No one is more keenly aware of the irony of this dispute than Larry Gordon and I who have been trying to get this movie made for many years. There's a list of people who have rejected the viability of a movie based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's classic graphic novel that reads like a who's who of Hollywood.

We've been told the graphic novel is unfilmable.

After 9/11 some felt the story's themes were too close to reality ever to be palatable to a mainstream audience.

There were those who considered the project but who wished it were somehow different: Could it be a buddy movie, or a team-up movie or could it focus on one main character; did it have to be so dark; did so many people have to die; could it be stripped of its flashback structure; could storylines be eliminated; could new storylines be invented; did it have to be so long; could the blue guy put clothes on... The list of dissatisfactions for what Watchmen is was as endless as the list of suggestions to make it something it never was.

Also endless are the list of studio rejections we accrued over the years. Larry and I developed screenplays at five different studios. We had two false starts in production on the movie. We were involved with prominent and commercial directors. Big name stars were interested. In one instance hundreds of people were employed, sets were being built - An A-list director and top artists in the industry were given their walking papers when the studio financing the movie lost faith.

After all these years of rejection, this is the same project, the same movie, over which two studios are now spending millions of dollars contesting ownership. Irony indeed, and then some.

Through the years, inverse of the lack of studio faith has been the passionate belief by many many individuals - movie professionals who were also passionate fans of the graphic novel - who, yes, wanted to work on the film, but more for reasons of just wanting to see the movie get made, to see this movie get made and made right, donated their time and talent to help push the film forward: Writers gave us free screenplay drafts; conceptual art was supplied by illustrators, tests were performed gratis by highly respected actors and helped along and put together by editors, designers, prop makers and vfx artists; we were the recipients of donated studio and work space, lighting and camera equipment. Another irony, given the commercial stakes implied by the pitched legal dispute between Fox and Warners, is that for years Watchmen has been a project that has survived on the fumes of whatever could be begged, borrowed and stolen - A charity case for all intents and purposes. None of that effort, none of that passion and emotional involvement, is considered in the framework of this legal dispute.

From my point of view, the flashpoint of this dispute, came in late spring of 2005. Both Fox and Warner Brothers were offered the chance to make Watchmen. They were submitted the same package, at the same time. It included a cover letter describing the project and its history, budget information, a screenplay, the graphic novel, and it made mention that a top director was involved.

And it's at this point, where the response from both parties could not have been more radically different.

The response we got from Fox was a flat "pass." That's it. An internal Fox email documents that executives there felt the script was one of the most unintelligible pieces of shit they had read in years. Conversely, Warner Brothers called us after having read the script and said they were interested in the movie - yes, they were unsure of the screenplay, and had many questions, but wanted to set a meeting to discuss the project, which they promptly did. Did anyone at Fox ask to meet on the movie? No. Did anyone at Fox express any interest in the movie? No. Express even the slightest interest in the movie? Or the graphic novel? No.

From there, the executives at Warner Brothers, who weren't yet completely comfortable with the movie, made a deal to acquire the movie rights and we all started to creatively explore the possibility of making Watchmen. We discussed creative approaches and started offering the movie to directors, our former director having moved on by then. After a few director submissions, Zack Snyder came onboard, well before the release of his movie 300. In fact, well before its completion. This was a gut, creative call by Larry, me and the studio... Zack didn't have a huge commercial track record, yet we all felt he was the right guy for the movie.

Warner Brothers continued to support, both financially and creatively, the development of the movie. And eventually, after over a year of work, they agreed to make the film, based on a script that, for what it's worth, was by and large very similar to the one Fox initially read and deemed an unintelligible piece of shit.

Now here's the part that has to be fully appreciated, if for nothing more than providing insight into producing movies in Hollywood: The Watchmen script was way above the norm in length, near 150 pages, meaning the film could clock in at close to 3 hours, the movie would not only be R rated but a hard R - for graphic violence and explicit sex - would feature no stars, and had a budget north of $100M. We also asked Warner Brothers to support an additional 1 to 1.5 hours of content incurring additional cost that would tie in with the movie but only be featured in DVD iterations of the film. Warners supported the whole package and I cannot begin to emphasize how ballsy and unprecedented a move this was on the part of a major Hollywood studio. Unheard of. And would another studio in Hollywood, let alone a studio that didn't show one shred of interest in the movie, not one, have taken such a risk? Would they ever have made such a commitment, a commitment to a film that defied all conventional wisdom?

Only the executives at Fox can answer that question. But if they were to be honest, their answer would have to be "No."

Shouldn't Warner Brothers be entitled to the spoils - if any -- of the risk they took in supporting and making Watchmen? Should Fox have any claim on something they could have had but chose to neither support nor show any interest in?

Look at it another way... One reason the movie was made was because Warner Brothers spent the time, effort and money to engage with and develop the project. If Watchmen was at Fox the decision to make the movie would never have been made because there was no interest in moving forward with the project.

Does a film studio have the right to stand in the way of an artistic endeavor and determine that it shouldn't exist? If the project had been sequestered at Fox, if Fox had any say in the matter, Watchmen simply wouldn't exist today, and there would be no film for Fox to lay claim on. It seems beyond cynical for the studio to claim ownership at this point.

By his own admission, Judge Feess is faced with an extremely complex legal case, with a contradictory contractual history, making it difficult to ascertain what is legally right. Are there circumstances here that are more meaningful, which shed light on what is ultimately just, to be taken into account when assessing who is right? In this case, what is morally right, beyond the minutiae of decades-old contractual semantics, seems clear cut.

For the sake of the artists involved, for the hundreds of people, executives and filmmakers, actors and crew, who invested their time, their money, and dedicated a good portion of their lives in order to bring this extraordinary project to life, the question of what is right is clear and unambiguous - Fox should stand down with its claim.

My father, who was a lawyer and a stickler for the minutiae of the law, was always quick to teach me that the determination of what is right and wrong was not the sole purview of the courts. I bet someone at Fox had a parent like mine who instilled the same sense of fairness and justice in them.

Lloyd Levin"

But wait... almost as soon as we published this letter, things went "bananas," as the kids say, and more developments started breaking all over the place. Thank you to anyone and everyone who linked to this, even David Poland, who managed to still find a way to spin a letter where I didn't editorialize at all into more proof that I hate Fox.

But I don't. That's the thing. If I simply hated Fox, I wouldn't care what they did. I think that's the single most misunderstood thing about what I've written about that studio over the years. I am a lifelong movie freak, and believe it or not, I do care about the iconography of each of the studios. I love the fanfares at the beginning of movies, and each one means something different to me. That 20th Century Fox fanfare... that was in front of "Star Wars," the movie that chemically altered me when I saw it at the age of seven. And that fanfare... that logo... I took that as a promise that whatever came after would be something special.

So if I'm hard on Fox, it's because I still believe that these icons deserve to be treated well, and all I ever want is to sit in that theater for two hours and see something worthwhile. And, yeah, that means we haven't been communicating at all over the last few years, and that posting open letters is the only way I seem to be able to make any impression at all.

But I'd love to hear a response from Fox. I'd give them the exact same room to talk and the exact same placement on the front page. The cone of silence only works one way here. For now, the only response from Fox has been in this article by John Horn of the LA TIMES.

Meanwhile, Larry Gordon is evidently countersuing, and he wrote a heated letter to the court this week about his own place in the entire affair. The Hollywood Reporter got hold of the letter and posted an article about it yesterday as well.

Update (Friday, 1/9): Here is the official response provided to HitFix by a Fox Spokesperson.

"We appreciate Mr. Levin’s passion for this project, but he has neglected basic facts and legal rulings.

Fox notified Warner Bros. of our rights in this project months before production on the film began -- they chose to ignore our rights on this occasion and several times after that and proceeded at their own risk. Only after having our rights in the film deliberately ignored by Warner Bros. did we take the action of filing litigation in order to have those rights recognized.

Finally, on Judge Feess’ Christmas Eve order, he specifically ruled that WB had been timely notified and that Fox, in fact, had the rights that we’ve always asserted. There is no question of who is right and who is wrong. That has been decided through the litigation that we had hoped to avoid, and we refer interested parties to the court’s ruling to confirm these statements."

So obviously all of this is far from over, and as the story develops, we'll continue to follow it here at HitFix.

Original here

15 reasons Mr. Rogers was best neighbor ever

By Mangesh Hattikudur

(Mental Floss) -- Here are 15 things everyone should know about Fred Rogers:

Every one of Mr. Roger's cardigan sweaters was hand-knitted by Fred Rogers' mother.

Every one of Mr. Roger's cardigan sweaters was hand-knitted by Fred Rogers' mother.

1. Even Koko the Gorilla loved him. Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English.

What most people don't know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she'd always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!

2. He made thieves think twice. According to a TV Guide piece on him, Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town.

Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, "If we'd known it was yours, we never would have taken it." Mental Floss: Memorable commencement speakers

3. He watched his figure to the pound. In covering Rogers' daily routine (waking up at 5 a.m.; praying for a few hours for all of his friends and family; studying; writing, making calls and reaching out to every fan who took the time to write him; going for a morning swim; getting on a scale; then really starting his day), writer Tom Junod explained that Mr. Rogers weighed in at exactly 143 pounds every day for the last 30 years of his life.

He didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't eat the flesh of any animals, and was extremely disciplined in his daily routine. And while I'm not sure if any of that was because he'd mostly grown up a chubby, single child, Junod points out that Rogers found beauty in the number 143.

According to the piece, Rogers came "to see that number as a gift... because, as he says, "the number 143 means 'I love you.' It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three."

4. He saved both public television and the VCR. Strange but true. When the government wanted to cut public television funds in 1969, the relatively unknown Mister Rogers went to Washington.

Almost straight out of a Frank Capra film, his 5-6 minute testimony on how TV had the potential to give kids hope and create more productive citizens was so simple but passionate that even the most gruff politicians were charmed. While the budget should have been cut, the funding instead jumped from $9 to $22 million.

Rogers also spoke to Congress, and swayed senators into voting to allow VCR's to record television shows from the home. It was a cantankerous debate at the time, but his argument was that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Mental Floss: Forgotten kids shows sure to give you nightmares

5. He might have been the most tolerant American ever. Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first.

Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, "God loves you just the way you are." Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.

6. He was genuinely curious about others. Mister Rogers was known as one of the toughest interviews because he'd often befriend reporters, asking them tons of questions, taking pictures of them, compiling an album for them at the end of their time together, and calling them after to check in on them and hear about their families. He wasn't concerned with himself, and genuinely loved hearing the life stories of others.

And it wasn't just with reporters. Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec's house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host).

On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver's home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life the house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.

7. He was color-blind. Literally. He couldn't see the color blue. Of course, he was also figuratively color-blind, as you probably guessed. As were his parents, who took in a black foster child when Rogers was growing up. Mental Floss: Praise for the blind genius who invented cruise control

8. He could make a subway car full of strangers sing. Once while rushing to a New York meeting, there were no cabs available, so Rogers and one of his colleagues hopped on the subway. Esquire reported that the car was filled with people, and they assumed they wouldn't be noticed.

But when the crowd spotted Rogers, they all simultaneously burst into song, chanting "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The result made Rogers smile wide.

9. He got into TV because he hated TV. The first time he turned one on, he saw people angrily throwing pies in each other's faces. He immediately vowed to use the medium for better than that. Over the years he covered topics as varied as why kids shouldn't be scared of a haircut, or the bathroom drain (because you won't fit!), to divorce and war.

10. He was an Ivy League dropout. Rogers moved from Dartmouth to Rollins College to pursue his studies in music.

11. He composed all the songs on the show, and over 200 tunes.

12. He was a perfectionist, and disliked ad libbing. He felt he owed it to children to make sure every word on his show was thought out.

13. Michael Keaton got his start on the show as an assistant. He helped puppeteer and operate the trolley.

14. Several characters on the show are named for his family. Queen Sara is named after Rogers' wife, and the postman Mr. McFeely is named for his maternal grandfather who always talked to him like an adult, and reminded young Fred that he made every day special just by being himself. Sound familiar? It was the same way Mister Rogers closed every show.

15. The sweaters. Every one of the cardigans he wore on the show had been hand-knit by his mother.

Original here

Patrick Swayze hospitalized

Swayze TCA -- A&E’s plans to promote its upcoming drama “The Beast” were disrupted Friday when its star Patrick Swayze checked into a hospital.

Swayze, who has been battling cancer, was scheduled to appear at the Television Critics Assn.'s press tour at the Universal Hilton when the network announced the actor had pneumonia.

"Patrick has asked that I tell you that this morning he checked himself into the hospital for observation for pneumonia," A&E president and GM Robert DeBitetto said. "Chemotherapy can take its toll on the immune system, and illnesses are a part of that. Patrick wishes me to tell you that he's very sorry he cannot attend, but plans to get back to promoting 'The Beast' soon."

Swayze plays a tough FBI veteran named Charles Barker on the show. The show’s panel session continued without the star, with producers telling stories of working with Swayze and detailing how his cancer has impacted – and, more often, not impacted – the production.

Producers said they learned Swayze had cancer only four hours after hearing that A&E picked up their show to series. The production moved forward without the usual insurance coverage.

"Typical cast insurance was not available in this case," DeBitetto said. “We knew the risks we were taking. They kept us informed about this treatment; we had very honest conversations with his physician. We were looking at very finite period of time when the production would have to be done. We decided to go forward and are pleased we did."

Added creator and executive producer William Rotko, "When we found out he had cancer we went to his house. We've been working on the TV show for a year, and have your own interests and families, and to find out your star has a very serious cancer ... we were down to his pool, and he's not a man who sheds a lot of tears, and when he saw how emotional I was ... he came up and said, 'It’s going to be OK, I’m going to be OK.' And I went home to my wife and -- he’s got cancer and he’s telling me it's going to be OK. And that carries through the show."

Out of shooting 12 episodes after the pilot, the actor missed only a single day of work, producers said.

"You forget sometimes Patrick is going through treatment for cancer," Rotko said. "It bring use closer together as a tight-knit group. It makes you stop and think before you say you have a tummy ache."

Rotko recalls first meeting the actor to discuss the role: "His face immediately leapt toward us. It's changed. Not by surgery -- he’s gotten older and more gritty. And we thought it was a wonderful opportunity for him to do a departure ... and for us because he’s a big movie star who was so passionate about the material. It’s been a terrific experience working with him."

After the panel, pilot director Michael Dinner said if the show receives a pickup, the production would be ready to start shooting a second season as soon as March to accommodate the actor's schedule.

Asked if the first season's story line sets up Swayze to continue playing the role, or if he could be replaced as the show progresses like actors on ensemble crime shows like "CSI," producers were adamant that Swayze is central to "The Beast."

"We're taking our cues from Patrick," showrunner John Romano said. "The only rough conversations I have with Patrick is him asking, 'Are you writing me down? Are you having me climbing fewer walls than usual?' He is giving us every signal that he is continuing to show up. ['CSI' is] not our model. I've never seen a part written with more commitment. All of our thinking is about Barker as played by Patrick Swayze vs. the Beast."

Original here

Friday, January 9, 2009

6 Classic Movies (That Narrowly Avoided Disaster)

By Jeff Kelly
article image

Nothing good in life comes easy, not even in Hollywood. The truth is if you go behind the scenes of some of your favorite movies you'll find fuck-ups, failures and bleeding ulcers.

If you needed any further proof that perseverance can lead to great things (or at least, a shitload of money), check out the stories behind...

#6.
Star Wars

Ah, Star Wars (we're talking about the first film - and don't give us any of that "Episode IV" shit, either). It's the age old tale of a boy, his two gay droids and a confusing intergalactic struggle that should have ended after the third movie.

The film served as a coming out party for such stars as bearded, nerdy director George Lucas, ruggedly handsome actor Harrison Ford and... and...


Harrison Ford and...friends.

Well, it worked wonders for Ford and Lucas, anyway. The film became an instant phenomenon, shattering box office records and pretty much inventing the concept of the big-budget special effects blockbuster. For better or worse.

Why We Almost Never Got to See it

This production was pretty much a disaster from the first step. The script was bad, on paper (Ford famously hated the dialogue, saying, "You can type this shit George, but you can't say it."). The crew grumbled, openly unhappy to be working on what they deemed a "kid's film," and a retarded one at that. Kenny Baker, who squeezed into a garbage can to play R2-D2, admitted he thought the movie would be a steaming pile of shit.


We can't imagine why Ford thought this was weird.

Over the course of filming, the budget ballooned from $8 million to $11 million (big money back then, especially for a film the studio didn't think could earn it back). Props malfunctioned, costumes malfunctioned, wardrobe malfunctioned (with those last two words did you just picture C-3PO's chest plate opening and a boob popping out? Because we did).


And just in case you weren't picturing it...

How cursed was this production? At one point a freak rainstorm in Tunisia delayed the filming of the Tatooine scenes, which as you may recall were all in the desert. You read that right: freak rainstorms. In the desert.

As they were finishing filming, Mark Hamill got into a car accident, smashing his face (he was supposedly in surgery for seven hours to put the bones back together).

So it wasn't just the cast and crew, God apparently hated Star Wars too.

#5.
Jaws

In 1975, a 27-year-old director that no one had ever heard of named Steven Spielberg unleashed Jaws on the world, at once creating both the summer blockbuster and shark phobia. The film starred Jonathan Brandis's Seaquest co-star Roy Scheider.

Why We Almost Never Got to See it

Mechanical sharks suck. At least, that's what Spielberg learned while filming Jaws on Martha's Vineyard. Originally, the plan was to feature the shark prominently throughout the film; devouring people, destroying boats and getting jumped by the Fonz. However, to do those things the sharks would have needed to, you know, work.


Not intentional.

The salt water wreaked havoc with the mechamism--the first time one was placed in the water it promptly plummeted to the bottom of the ocean. Even when the mechanical sharks did stay afloat, they were met by mechanical malfunctions that ultimately led to Spielberg's decision to keep the great beast hidden for almost the entire movie, forcing him to do all of this "suspense" and "character reaction" stuff that established the film as a classic and launched his career.


Stupid lucky bastard.

The production stretched from a planned 55 days to a whopping 159, with the budget ballooning to over $12 million (again, a lot of cash in 70s Hollywood). Spielberg wondered if he'd be fired from the project, and a demoralized crew nicknamed the film "Flaws." Really? That's the best they could come up with?

On top of everything else, actor Robert Shaw (the shark hunter Quint) proved to be a bit of a handful on the set, including getting completely shitfaced to film the legendary USS Indianapolis scene. In addition, Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss (the other star of the movie) openly hated one another, bitching and arguing back and forth throughout the production, just as their respective characters Quint and Hooper did in the movie.


"Cut! Robert! We said cut! Noooo!"

#4.
Raiders of the Lost Ark

After they narrowly avoided disaster and achieved stunning successes with Jaws and Star Wars, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decided to team up to make what would either be the most glorious adventure film of all time or, given their track records, the largest fuck up.

Luckily for us, all the pieces fell into place and Raiders of the Lost Ark was the product, introducing the world to Indiana Jones long before Shia LeBeouf came into the world dead set on destroying him.


Ouch! Right in the childhood.

Why We Almost Never Got to See it

With reputations for going well over budget, it's pretty understandable that studios would be a little hesitant to fund a joint venture between Spielberg and Lucas. So it's of little surprise that when they initially took their idea about professor by day; religious artifact-saving, Nazi-fighting, super-archeologist by night Indiana Jones to studio heads, most balked and told them to piss off. Finally, the duo convinced Paramount to fund their film, though at a potentially tremendous cost. The contract stated that, if they went over budget, Lucas and Spielberg would have to foot the bill themselves.

Casting proved to be a bitch, as Spielberg and Lucas wanted Tom Selleck's mustache in the role, but his conflicting schedule on Magnum P.I. led to Harrison Ford getting his second swashbuckling role under Lucas. And he was totally the shit.


Oh, what might have been...

Then, Spielberg wanted to cast his girlfriend Amy Irving as the female lead, but found that would have been extremely awkward once she dumped his ass. Debra Winger and Barbara Hershey, who have since disappeared from the face of the earth, were next in line before the role went to Karen Allen.

And speaking of shit, John Rhys Davies, who would later go on to play an angry, drunken midget in Lord of the Rings, shit himself in full costume. Sadly, this cannot be found on the DVD's deleted scenes.


"Bad dates. Also, I shit myself."

But as bad as shitting yourself in front of your peers while wearing a costume can be (and we know from experience), Ford may have actually suffered the most throughout the production.

On top of having a giant plane roll over his leg, tearing a ligament in his knee, the crusty star suffered from dysentery for more than a month while filming in the 130 degree heat of Tunisia, a location Spielberg hated so much that he cut the production schedule in the area by more than a week.

Ford's bout with dysentery got so bad that at one point, he begged Spielberg to alter a fight scene for fear that the sight of feces running down Indiana's leg might not strike the right tone. Instead of fighting a swordsman, he suggested that he just pull a gun out and shoot the fucker.

Spielberg agreed, understanding that sometimes just shooting a guy in the face is the best solution. Once again, the threat from a spray of rancid feces makes film history.

#3.
The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is the story of a girl, her dog, a tornado and the band of rejected circus freaks she meets on her way to meet the titular Wizard, who she is told will help her get back to dreary Kansas, rather than stay in the awesome wonderland of magic.

Released in 1939, the film was nominated for Best Picture, introduced the world to the song "Over the Rainbow" and somehow turned Judy Garland into an icon in the gay community.


Exactly what L. Frank Baum had in mind.

Why We Almost Never Got to See it

Usually you can tell how bad a movie is by how many people they had write it. Tons of writers usually means tons of rewrites due to horrible drafts.

The Wizard of Oz had 16 writers.

Even more amazing, it went through four directors. The film's original director, Richard Thorpe, was fired after a few weeks and replaced by George Cukor. Unfortunately, Cukor was on his way to directing Gone with the Wind, and despite having full knowledge that he would be bailing on the film soon, the studio brought him on anyway - for a whopping seven days.

After Cukor hustled off to burn down Atlanta all over again, Victor Fleming was brought in and ended up filming the bulk of the movie. Toward the end of the shoot, Fleming (who clearly enjoyed Cukor's sloppy seconds) left the production to finish off Gone with the Wind, and the awesomely named King Vidor, who probably ruled a small island nation somewhere, came on as the film's closer.


King Vidor. What a disappointment.

An actress named Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch, but quit due to the decision to make the witch into a hag. Presumably on her way out the door the producers gave her a dictionary and told her to look up the definition of "witch."

Along with Sondergaard leaving production, the film also famously needed to replace Buddy "Uncle Jed" Ebsen in the role of the Tin Man after nearly killing him. Ironically, he wasn't even cast as the Tin Man in the first place, only swapping from the role of the Scarecrow to the Tin Man because Ray Bolger bitched about playing an aluminum can with legs.

After swapping roles, Ebsen was hospitalized after the makeup being used to make him look like Silver Surfer coated his lungs from breathing. Naturally, they failed to mention that little side effect to Jack Haley, Ebsen's replacement (though they did slightly alter the makeup, not wanting to have a pesky manslaughter trial on their hands).


"Oxygen tank...oxygen tank!"

But that wasn't the only near death on set. Perhaps in an attempt to keep up with the good people of Salem, Margaret Hamilton, who replaced Sondergaard as the witch, was very nearly burned to death in a scene in which she disappears in a puff of smoke.

Upon returning to the production, Hamilton refused to do another similar scene, and, quite predictably, her stand in was quickly injured thanks to a malfunction on the set. There may not have been an actual death like the myth about the munchkin hanging himself on set, but we can never say it wasn't because the filmmakers didn't try.

#2.
Titanic

Titanic, if you're one of the three people who have not yet seen it, is the story of a wealthy discontented young woman who only wants to mix it up with the impoverished, and the rascally street urchin who helps her accomplish that goal. He draws her naked, they have sweaty monkey sex in the back of a car and the giant luxury ocean liner they are on (SPOILER!) very inconveniently sinks when it strikes an iceberg.


"Oh, nice boat, assholes."

Partly thanks to millions of teenybopper girls who just could not get enough of Leo and his feminine good looks, it became the highest grossing film of all time and won the Best Picture award for 1997.

Why We Almost Never Got to See it

When he stepped on stage to accept his Best Director award and proclaimed himself king of the world, we probably should have guessed that James Cameron might be kind of a douche.


More like king of the dicks

On the set of Titanic, Cameron would often force the cast and crew to work 20 hour days to meet his very particular vision for every single frame. Three stuntmen suffered broken bones, several crew members quit due to the rigorous demands and many of the cast members came down with colds, the flu and even suffered kidney infections from logging so many hours floating around in the dirty ol' Pacific down Mexico way. Who would have guessed the water in Mexico would cause illness?

Star Kate Winslet found the experience so off putting, having been one of the cast members to come down with the flu in addition to chipping a bone and, oh yeah, almost drowning, that she famously announced she would never work with Cameron again unless she first got a giant bag of money with a big dollar sign on the side.


We like to think she made this announcement while being drawn naked.

But the near disaster that became Titanic was not entirely Cameron's fault. In one incident that no doubt would have been hilarious to witness, someone sprinkled PCP into a batch of lobster chowder that was then consumed by most of the crew, including Cameron, sending numerous cast and crew to the hospital. It was still reportedly the best damn chowder the crew had ever tasted.

The movie was also very nearly the ruin of Fox. Titanic was originally budgeted for $100 million, but due to the production running more than a month longer than originally slated, coming in at just about half a year in total, the budget ended up doubling. The $200 million final budget (which some say is itself a conservative estimate) made it, at the time, far and away the most expensive film production in history, and nearly bankrupted Fox.

The release date was pushed back from July to December, causing journalists everywhere to salivate at the chance to wittily remark about how, ironically, Fox was sunk by Titanic. Get it?!?


"My god, what a headline! Pulitzer here I come!"

#1.
Apocalypse Now

Considered by many to be one of the finest war movies ever made and based on Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece Apocalypse Now starred Joe Estevez's brother Martin Sheen in a star making role as a disillusioned soldier in Vietnam.

The movie was a smash success with critics, winning the Cannes Palme d'Or, which is French for "Fucking Sweet Movie," and earning a nomination for Best Picture. It also taught us that napalm, while one of the most terrifying substances known to man, smells positively delightful.

Why We Almost Never Got to See it

In all of Hollywood history, there are only a handful of movies that can claim to be as famous for their disastrous productions as for the actual end product, but such is the case with Apocalypse Now. Surprisingly, not all of that had to do with Marlon Brando being a complete douche (and what a douche he was, hurling coconuts at Coppola while discussing the script and being shot almost entirely in shadow to hide his ungodly weight gain).


"I hope the moon really is made of cheese, because I want to eat it."

The film's budget swelled from $12 million to $31 million, more than half of which came directly out of Coppola's own pocket, and the shoot dragged on for over 14 months. Some of that was due to the decidedly inconvenient typhoon that came through the Philippines and completely destroyed the films sets, causing massive delays as many of the cast and crew returned to the States for close to two months. Even after the long and arduous shoot, it took a whopping 26 months on top of that to edit and finally complete.


Photos of the slightly over-enthusiastic wrap party.

While Martin Sheen made the role of Willard famous, the role was also famously difficult to cast. Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and James Caan all passed, leading to Harvey Keitel (who you might remember as the guy who is apparently contractually obligated to show off his dong in every movie he's in) being given the role.

Less than a month into shooting, Coppola realized that Keitel and his penis were all wrong for Willard, and the pair were fired and replaced with Sheen... who subsequently had a massive, near fatal heart attack on set. Even Brando must have been shocked that it was Sheen, and not himself, who had the coronary.


"Sheen had the heart attack? Well, I just lost a bet."

Fortunately for the production, Martin's brother Joe was doing the same thing he's doing now (not having a legitimate acting career), and was available to stand in on some scenes, making Apocalypse Now officially the only quality film to ever involve Joe Estevez. Well, unless you count Werewolf.


Best. Tagline. EVER.