24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Patrick Goldstein

Movie theater junk food: Is it a menace to society?

June 13, 2012 |  7:00 am

Popcorn
If you’re a parent concerned about your kids eating healthful food, where is the last place you’d want them to go? The answer is simple: a movie theater. When I give my 14-year-old son some cash so he can have something to eat at the movies, I know that whatever he gets at the concession stand is going to be the most unhealthful thing he eats all month.

I had grown so accustomed to the outlandishly calorific food and drink in movie theaters that I hardly gave the issue a thought until a few recent developments — starting with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans to restrict the sale of super-sized sugary drinks in a variety of locales, including movie theaters.

Then the Walt Disney Co. announced that it plans to restrict junk food commercials during its TV programs aimed at children. And the city council in Richmond, Calif., recently voted to place a measure on the November ballot that would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on all high-sugar drinks, with the proceeds going to school gardens and programs to fight childhood obesity.

I’m not sure I would’ve connected all these dots if I hadn’t found myself searching for a lively topic for a speech I’m giving this week to a branch of the National Assn. of Theater Owners (NATO). Let me be clear: I love movie theaters. The bond is an emotional one. My grandfather owned a chain of theaters in Miami. When I was a kid, I spent hundreds of hours working lowly jobs at the theaters, which no doubt helped inspire my love for movies.

Bigpicture

But as the times have changed, few theater owners have been willing to change with them. To hear them talk, 3-D is a giant leap forward, even though it is largely a revival of a technology first developed in, ahem, the 1950s. Even though some theaters have sweetened their sound systems and are experimenting with mobile ticket scanners, today’s theater chains are hardly a hotbed of customer-friendly innovation. Whenever a Hollywood studio even tries to experiment with changing the windows for video on demand, for instance, exhibitors hit the panic button.

This fear of change is also at the heart of the healthful food issue. After all, theater owners have a good thing going when it comes to their junk-food business model. Exhibitors split their box-office take with studios, but they keep every penny of their concession sales. And the popcorn and soda markup is considerable: At my local AMC theater, a small bag of popcorn costs $6; a large one is $8, even though the actual cost of making the popcorn is minuscule. According to recent studies, 85% of the money spent on concessions is pure profit, going straight to the theaters’ bottom line.

It’s a key reason why movie theaters have banned patrons from bringing in outside snacks, since without the hefty concession revenues, theaters would have trouble staying in business. It’s also a key reason why theaters are reluctant to mess with their junk-food business model, since a healthful food menu might cut into concession profits.

Still, it’s time for a change. AMC’s 16-cup large tub of popcorn contains 1,030 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat. A similar large popcorn at Regal had 1,200 calories. In a word: Yuck! The science is crystal clear. High intake of sugary soft drinks and sodium-saturated popcorn increases the risks of obesity and diabetes. That runs up the costs for America’s overburdened healthcare system. Studies have also found that restricting the portion size of unhealthful foods leads consumers to consume less of them.

So why aren’t exhibitors taking a more proactive approach when it comes to healthful alternatives? According to NATO President John Fithian, I should be pointing my finger at patrons, not theater owners. “We have offered moviegoers healthy fare again and again, and it didn’t sell,” he told me Monday. “We’ve tried yogurt, fruit juices, granola bars — you name it. And nothing sells. It sits on the shelves until it spoils and you have to throw it away.”

Fithian says that in the late 1990s, in response to a well-publicized study about unhealthful oil used in popcorn machines, many exhibitors invested in air-popped popcorn machines. It was a bust. “I have a file full of patron complaints,” he said. “The healthy popcorn initiative was an absolute disaster. They wanted the cooking oil back. We’ve got warehouses full of unused air popcorn machines.”

Fithian said the majority of theater chains now offer alternatives. Cinemark has a Lite Bites package of healthful food. AMC has its Smart Movie Snacks, which include bottled water, dried fruit and trail-mix bars.

“Everyone agrees that tackling childhood obesity is an important goal for the country — we’re just getting bigger and bigger as Americans,” Fithian said. “But the solution has to be comprehensive, not just aimed at a specific problem.” Fithian dismissed Bloomberg’s smaller portions concept as “a really silly idea,” saying that it especially penalizes people who want to buy one large portion of drink or food to share with the entire family.

He argues that moviegoing is an escapist activity, subject to an entirely different psychology of behavior. “Take nachos,” he said. “I’d never make them at home or order them for my kids in a restaurant. But when I go to a theater, that’s what I want. You eat differently in a theater than you do elsewhere.”

As a die-hard baseball fan, I spent years eating hot dogs and nachos at Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field. But the national pastime has had considerable success enticing fans with more diverse — and more healthful — food choices. More importantly, they don’t seem to have lost any money doing it.

My wife had a curried chicken lettuce wrap the last time she was at Dodger Stadium. You can order a grilled vegetable panini at Angel Stadium. The culinary advances aren’t just limited to the Left Coast. In Milwaukee, Miller Stadium has a great made-to-order pasta cart. In St. Louis, you can get stir fry. In (gasp!) Detroit, Comerica Park offers sushi.

Do baseball fans still eat more hot dogs than sushi? Sure. But in light of the explosion of health problems in America, prodding theaters to sell smaller portions of sugar-crammed sodas and fatty popcorn is hardly an example of nanny state totalitarianism.

Even though we live in an era where many citizens are suspicious of or openly hostile to government-imposed rules, it is time to find ways to encourage more healthful behavior. I have many libertarian friends, but I don’t hear them arguing that their 16-year-old should be able to drive without wearing a seat belt. Nor do I hear any Little League parents suggesting that their kid should go to bat without a helmet.

As a society, we’ve willingly agreed to a variety of restrictions and rules aimed at promoting the common good, including limitations on public smoking and producing foods with trans fats. Were they always popular initially? Hardly. But they have changed our culture — and for the better.

I have no illusions. Anyone pressuring theater owners to stop selling jumbo portions of super-sweet soft drinks and popcorn is in for a titanic-sized food fight. But it’s time to shrink everyone’s stomach at the multiplex. Movie budgets may get bigger every year, but when it comes to healthful eating, less is always more.

RELATED:

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--Patrick Goldstein

Twitter: @patrickbigpix

Photo: Popcorn being dished up at the Edwards theaters in Irvine. Credit: Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times

 


Pulp non fiction: Joe Eszterhas tells all about Mel Gibson

June 9, 2012 |  7:00 am

Joe Eszterhas
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has given up chasing women. He’s given up booze. He’s given up smoking, after barely surviving a horrible bout of throat cancer. But judging from “Heaven and Mel,” his new Amazon e-book about his ill-fated attempt to write a historical action drama about the Maccabees for Mel Gibson to direct, Eszterhas hasn’t lost his fondness for larger-than-life showbiz soap opera.

Eszterhas was once the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, a man who fought bitterly with directors, studios and actresses — at least when he wasn’t sleeping with them. He lived across the street from Bob Dylan in Malibu, wore a T-shirt to studio meetings with the motto “my inner child is a mean little ...” and once sold a pitch written on the back of a cocktail napkin for $4.7 million. His biggest hit was “Basic Instinct,” but his second-most-impressive piece of writing may have been a blistering screed he penned in 1989 to then-CAA czar Michael Ovitz. At the time, Ovitz was threatening to ruin Eszterhas’ career because he was leaving CAA to rejoin his old agent.

In short, Eszterhas is no babe in the Hollywood woods.

Bigpicture

A decade ago, Eszterhas left Hollywood to return to his native Ohio, where he and his wife, Naomi, are raising four kids. But he hasn’t managed to put all the fireworks behind him: When he turned in his Maccabees script this spring to Warner Bros., the studio financing the project, it crashed and burned — executives told him it didn’t cut the mustard. Upset over the rejection, which he blamed on Gibson, Eszterhas wrote another blistering letter, this one to Gibson. It described Gibson as acting outrageously during the time they spent together, and Eszterhas has now expanded that into a 150-page book.

“I feel that it’s a powerful story that I had to tell about truth and values and choices,” Eszterhas told me this week via phone from Ohio. “I leaned over backwards not to make it a hatchet job. I show the love Mel has for his daughter and other good things he’s done. But if you were putting this in fundamentalist Baptist terms, you’d have to say that Mel is a man who’s been battling his demons and the demons have won.”

It’s clear from the book that religion is what brought the men together, as well as what shredded their relationship. What’s less clear is why Eszterhas stuck around as long as he did.

Eszterhas says he wanted to write the Maccabees story not just because the tale of the embattled warriors was a stirring chapter in Jewish history. Eszterhas had old wounds to heal; his father, an émigré from Hungary, had turned out to have written anti-Semitic propaganda and organized book burnings in Hungary during World War II.

Eszterhas, who became a Christian in 2001, says he “felt a weight and a burden” that could perhaps be lifted by telling the Maccabees story. He also felt a kinship with Gibson, a devout Catholic, who has a complicated relationship with his own father, Hutton Gibson, a Holocaust skeptic who has said that the Second Vatican Council — which significantly reshaped and modernized Catholic liturgy and ritual in the 1960s — was a “Masonic plot backed by the Jews.”

Gibson, of course, has been shunned by many in Hollywood since he was arrested for drunk driving in Malibu in 2006 and launched into an anti-Semitic diatribe that became public. This was followed by a series of hate-filled rants against minorities that his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva taped during their phone conversations in 2010 and that also became public.

Eszterhas’ book is crammed with salacious allegations about Gibson, focusing on a series of disturbing scenes in which Eszterhas claims to have been on hand as Gibson launches into obscenity-filled denunciations of his ex-girlfriend, refers to Jews as “Hebes” and “oven-dodgers,” describes Pope John Paul II as the ringleader of a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy to destroy the Catholic Church and makes denigrating remarks about a host of his showbiz loyalists, including his longtime publicist Alan Nierob. (Nierob said Gibson had no comment about the book.)

It’s hard to say how true his account is. Eszterhas has an audiotape of one Gibson rant that the writer’s son recorded while the family was at Gibson’s retreat in Costa Rica. But when I asked Eszterhas if all of the richly detailed scenes in “Heaven and Mel” were substantiated by notes he had taken at the time, he said no.

“I wasn’t keeping notes,” he said. “I had no idea I was going to write a book until I wrote the big letter to Mel. But Naomi was always there, even in some of our script meetings. And she has an amazing memory.”

But, I asked, what about his lengthy description of his first meeting with Gibson where Eszterhas depicts the actor railing against the modern Catholic Church, saying for example, that “any priest who came after Vatican II in the ’60s isn’t a real priest” because “that’s when the church was ruined.”

“It’s from memory,” Eszterhas explained. “It was my first meeting with Mel and even though I’m 68, my memory is still pretty good.”

Maybe. But if Gibson is as awful and vitriolic as he’s portrayed in the book, why didn’t Eszterhas walk away? How could Eszterhas possibly occupy the high moral ground if he was willing to expose Gibson only after the studio rejected his script? After all, Eszterhas says he was paid $300,000 for the first draft. Was it about the money?

“Not at all,” Eszterhas said. “I convinced myself that I could write a script that was so powerful that either Mel would decide to do it because it was so cinematic or that the top Warners executives, who were Jewish, would love the story and convince Mel to do it. It wasn’t about the money. I desperately wanted to do this, both because of my father and my faith. My God wanted me to do this. I would’ve done it for $25,000.”

It’s hard not to recoil from the idea of Eszterhas willingly working with a man he accuses of such hate-filled behavior. Yet the screenwriter’s pairing with Gibson makes more sense if you consider what kind of drama Eszterhas is drawn to.

In “What Happens Next,” Marc Norman’s terrific history of American screenwriters, Norman cannily notes that, over and over, from “Basic Instinct” to “Jade” and “Sliver,” Eszterhas’ films focus on one central theme: a person who falls in love with someone who turns out to be a maniacal wack-job.

In “Heaven and Mel,” you realize that Eszterhas is simply telling his favorite story one more time.

RELATED: Kirk Douglas on the Blacklist: Why Hollywood showed so little courage

How did 'Battleship' escape the 'John Carter' flop furor?


-- Patrick Goldstein

Twitter: @patrickbigpix

Photo: Joe Eszterhas pictured in 2000 during an interview in his living room in Malibu. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

 


Kirk Douglas on the blacklist: Why Hollywood showed so little courage

June 5, 2012 |  7:00 am

Kirk Douglas: Click for 'Spartacus' photos
For all his achievements, Kirk Douglas brags about only one thing — his age. In the middle of an interview the other day, the fabled star, who’s 95, suddenly waved away one of my questions to ask one of his own. “So tell me,” he said with a mischievous grin, seated in the living room of his Beverly Hills home in front of a magnificent Toulouse-Lautrec. “Am I the oldest actor you’ve ever interviewed?”

I fumbled for an answer, caught off guard by his directness. “That’s OK,” he said. “You probably haven’t talked to a 95-year-old author either, have you?”

Hollywood’s white-maned lion king had me there. Douglas has written a lively new memoir about one of his greatest triumphs. Titled “I Am Spartacus!” it recounts how Douglas helped break the midcentury anti-communist blacklist by secretly hiring Dalton Trumbo to write “Spartacus,” the historical epic that was directed by Stanley Kubrick and produced by Douglas and came out in October 1960.

PHOTOS: Kirk Douglas in 'Spartacus'

BigpictureIn most history books, Otto Preminger gets the credit for breaking the blacklist, since he was the first to announce, in early 1960, that he’d hired Trumbo to write “Exodus” under his own name; the film was released in December that year. But Douglas makes a persuasive case that he was actually out in front, having agreed to give Trumbo screen credit for “Spartacus” in the fall of 1959, long before “Exodus” started filming.

Staring back into history from our time, when actors and filmmakers are free to express all sorts of spectacularly preposterous political viewpoints, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when your political beliefs could destroy your career. But that’s what happened in Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s after the nation was swept up in an intense anti-communist fervor.

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Alan Horn: Can Disney's new boss reinvent the studio?

June 1, 2012 |  1:46 pm

Tom Hanks, left, with Alan Horn at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Ant Bully"

You didn’t need a secret decoder ring to decipher the message Bob Iger sent to Hollywood this week when he announced the hiring of former Warner Bros. studio president Alan Horn as Disney’s new studio chief: Disney is back in the movie business.

For years, many showbiz insiders have viewed Disney as an alien planet, a realm whose ruler — Iger — had little emotional connection to the film industry. In his interviews and earnings call chats with financial analysts, Iger was often dismissive of the movie business, viewing it as an antiquated appendage to Disney’s increasingly forward-looking media empire.

BigpictureBut the arrival of Horn, who was unceremoniously pushed out of his Warners job in April 2011, is a game changer. It’s a sign that Iger, who has spent the last several years hiring (and then firing) untested executive talent, notably the recently departed studio chief Rich Ross, realizes Disney needs a seasoned hand and a soothing presence who can revive its relations with top Hollywood talent.

In the creative community, the reaction to the Horn hiring was nothing short of ecstatic. As one veteran agent put it: “It’s like James Dolan hiring Phil Jackson to coach the Knicks. You feel like Disney is back in the game.”

Continue reading »

How did 'Battleship' escape the 'John Carter' flop furor?

May 30, 2012 | 12:50 pm

Pete berg

If there is a truism in Hollywood when it comes to the media, it’s that people in the industry never think you’re nasty, mean or vicious enough when writing about someone else’s movie. It’s a business, after all, where people root just as hard to see their friends fail as their enemies.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear from so many studio execs, producers and agents this week, all wondering the same thing: Why hasn’t the entertainment press been giving “Battleship” just as big a whipping as it gave “John Carter” a couple of months ago? After all, both films cost more than $200 million to make, an additional $100 million to market and, despite OK performances overseas, were pretty much dead on arrival in the United States.

Their overall numbers aren’t all that different. Disney’s “John Carter” did a paltry $72 million in the United States and an additional $210 million overseas; “Universal’s “Battleship” is on track to do even less in America than “John Carter” while so far making $232 million overseas. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Universal could lose $150 million on “Battleship,” while Disney took a $200-million write-down on “John Carter."

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Those are both huge bites out of a rotten apple, yet while “John Carter” got a noisy, prolonged thrashing from the showbiz media, “Battleship” has largely escaped scrutiny, except for a predictable round of opening weekend obituaries. (If I had a dollar for every headline that went “ ‘Avengers’ sinks ‘Battleship,’" I could probably finance a couple of movies myself.)

There have been a few solid inside-baseball accounts, including one at the Vulture website that actually predicted that Universal marketing chief Josh Goldstine would lose his job because of the poor performance of “Battleship.” But for the most part, the media are allowing “Battleship” to slide down to the ocean floor without much fuss or fanfare.

Why were we so worked up about “John Carter” yet so blasé about “Battleship?

Big PictureFirst, I should cite one immutable media law: If there are two box-office stinkers, the first one gets far more attention. Being the first mega flop of the year, “John Carter” was a magnet for media scrutiny. The film was also hurt by the fact that Disney, whose top cadre of executives is about as open with the press as the rulers of North Korea, had few friends in the media who might be willing to cut the studio a break.

“John Carter” also became a fat target after Disney axed MT Carney, its controversial head of marketing, who had famously decreed that the film’s title be shortened from “John Carter of Mars” to the generic “John Carter,” as if Mars might be too esoteric a locale for a sci-fi adventure film. For media sharks, Carney’s departure was a sign that blood was in the water — it only heightened the awareness that something was amiss with the film.

With “John Carter” out in front, it became the poster child for studio excess, allowing “Battleship” to stay, at least to some degree, out of the line of fire. Even though the media exhibit enormous sophistication and historical perspective in a thousand different ways — not that I can think of a specific example right now — they are far too often bedazzled by the sheer novelty of a story. If you watch cable news, for example, you know all too well that if there are two child kidnappings in the same month, the first one gets far more attention than the second.

VIDEO: 'Battleship' debuts weakly at the box office

This same law applies to box-office bombs. With “Battleship,” the fascination with Hollywood flop sweat had already worn off. When I asked a veteran showbiz reporter why his publication had spent so little time covering the demise of “Battleship,” he joked: “I guess we all had the same reaction — didn’t we just write that story already?”

“Battleship” was also helped by the fact that it arrived after “Dark Shadows,” which had underperformed at the box office, muddying the waters a little in terms of what qualified as a dud and what qualified as a disaster.

It’s also possible that Universal managed its story better than Disney did. After all, “Battleship” had opened overseas weeks before it arrived in the States, so it took some of the negative energy out of the film’s weak U.S. opening weekend. Films that debut internationally before they open in the U.S. get a break from the box office press, largely because there still isn’t a simple measuring stick for overseas box-office performance. It’s harder to declare a film a flop when there aren’t as many box-office comparables in terms of one studio release versus another.  ("John Carter," meanwhile, opened in dozens of markets on the same weekend of its March 9 stateside debut.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean anyone in Hollywood can rest easy, believing that if another film crashes and  burns that the media will show even less interest in its box-office woes. To the contrary. Expect the media to go after the next bomb with guns ablazing. After all, three flops in a row is the kind of story everyone in the media can understand: It’s a trend.

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'G.I.Joes' move to 2013: Curse or blessing in disguise?

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: "Battleship" director Pete Berg pictured this January in the control room aboard the USS Spruance. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times


'G.I. Joe's' move to 2013: A curse or blessing in disguise?

May 29, 2012 | 10:50 am

Scene from "G.I. Joe" film

Hollywood was all aflutter late last week over the news that Paramount had done the unthinkable — it had delayed the release of its big summer film “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” just five weeks before it was due to reach theaters. The studio said it was pushing the release back to next March so the film could be converted to 3-D.

Judging from the buzz on Twitter and reaction from industry insiders, no one was buying that explanation. The consensus? Paramount must have decided that it didn’t have the goods to go up against so much stiff summer superhero competition. Surely the film must be a dog.

The Big PictureAfter all, when studios bail on a release date, it’s usually a sign of something being amiss. Paramount had already spent millions on marketing and promotion touting the film’s launch, including a costly buy for a Super Bowl commercial. The “G.I. Joe” trailer was already playing in theaters. Billboards were up around town. As one top studio executive told me, with obvious relish: “Look on the bright side. Paramount could be the first studio ever to run a spot for the same movie on two Super Bowls in a row.”

From the standpoint of conventional wisdom, surely someone hit the panic button. Look at Marvel Studios: It locks in its release dates years in advance, often long before anyone has started to shoot the movie or even finished the script. For years, this has been the calculus for summer behemoths: Plant your flag on an attractive release date and work backward from that.

It makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re a showbiz brand manager who views your movie as an industrial assembly-line product. In pop music, an artist can sense something in the air, slip into their backyard studio and get a record out into the world in months, sometimes weeks. TV shows deal with zeitgeist issues all the time.

But Hollywood, especially when it comes to reacting to the marketplace, rumbles at the pace of a 2-ton dinosaur. Studios have so many merchandising tie-in deals and carefully orchestrated promotional windows that once a movie’s release date is set, it’s almost impossible to shift gears.

Studios are also prisoners of a risk-averse mind-set that has clogged the machinery of the business, stifling almost anything that resembles innovative thinking. This is especially true of studio release dates, which often seem to be chosen by a distribution chief who’s been in closed-door consultations with a palm reader. If a film does well on a specific date, as “The Dark Knight” did when it came out on the third Friday in July 2008, you can bet that its sequel, this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” will also show up in theaters on the third Friday in July.

Perhaps because Paramount doesn’t have the same deep pockets as most of its studio rivals, it has been open to less traditional kinds of decision making. The studio spends less of its own money bankrolling movies than any other major distributor, but it has been especially canny about getting the most bang for its buck from its releases, one reason why it was the industry’s market share leader in 2011.

Paramount’s business has been booming overseas, in large part because of recent 3-D releases like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Thor.” It was an obvious motivation for giving “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” a 3-D makeover. With audiences in Russia, Korea, Brazil and Japan flocking to see 3-D films, studios believe that a good film can easily enjoy a 25% to 30% boost in its box office if it is distributed in 3-D. With digitally-equipped theater expansion unfolding at a breakneck pace, there will be even more potential ticket sales available by the time “G.I. Joe” debuts.

But to hear insiders at Paramount tell it, the studio was also reacting to events that had occurred in the marketplace since “G.I. Joe” went into production last summer. In fact, executives at every studio in town have been losing sleep in the last several months, trying to make sense of a series of major seismic shocks to their traditional business model.

Over the past 80 days, the industry has been rocked by the release of two huge flops — Disney’s “John Carter” and Universal’s “Battleship.” Each lost many millions, $200 million in the case of “Carter.” At the same time, the industry has spawned two gigantic hits, Disney’s “The Avengers” and Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games,” which are setting box-office records all around the globe.

As one veteran studio executive put it: “It’s great to have the big hits, but when you have two huge films that tank like that, it’s not a fluke — it’s a very unsettling development. It proves that there’s no floor anymore. You can spend an unbelievable amount of marketing dollars and still not even open your movie.”

For Paramount, the biggest lesson from this upheaval is that it couldn’t stand pat with “G.I. Joe.” The studio claims that when it greenlighted the film, it was so rushed that it couldn’t be in 3-D and still meet its summer release date. That now looks like a blunder. By delaying the film, the studio will eat a lot of marketing dollars, as well as spending more money on a 3-D conversion. But with the film in the hands of Jon Chu, a young filmmaker who’s already fluent in the technology, having made two 3-D movies already, the studio believes that a 3-D version of the film would be seen as more of an event internationally.

The studio also isn’t so hung up on leaving June 29 behind. In recent years, a host of films have done summer-like business in March, most recently “The Hunger Games,” which had one of the largest opening weekends ever from its March 23 launching pad this year. Ditto for “Alice in Wonderland,” also released in March, which out-grossed every 2010 release besides “Toy Story 3.”

No one’s saying that “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” will end up being a bigger hit next March than it would’ve been this June. But it is a sign that Paramount isn’t wearing blinders. With two giant action movies having recently capsized, despite huge marketing pushes from their studios, it’s time to realize that if you don’t have the goods, you can’t buy your way to success.

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Photo: Adrianne Palicki and Bruce Willis in a scene from the upcoming film "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Credit: Jaimie Trueblood / Paramount Pictures.


'G.I. Joe': Top 10 reasons Paramount bumped it from summer

May 24, 2012 | 11:37 am

GI JOE
You’ve probably heard by now that Paramount Pictures has delayed the release of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” its only summer action film, moving it from June 29 to March 2013. The surprise move came just five weeks before the $125-million movie, which stars Channing Tatum, Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis, was due for release in thousands of theaters across the globe. Universal immediately moved “Ted,” its Seth MacFarlane-directed comedy, up from July 13 to June 29.

Paramount decided to delay "G.I. Joe" to convert it to 3-D, said a person close to the studio who was not authorized to be identified discussing the matter publicly. But that explanation is running into some skepticism in town and has inspired a wealth of speculation about why the studio really would make such a last-minute decision involving such a costly summer film. Was the movie even worse than the first film in the series? Did Paramount run out of marketing money to support the picture? Or was the summer competition just too stiff?

The Big PictureWith so many wonderers wondering, it seemed like a good time to offer, with a tip of the cap to David Letterman, the Top 10 Reasons Why Paramount Moved “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” to 2013:

10) Channing Tatum was unavailable to do summer press junkets after having a series of ab transplants.

9) “Ted’s” Seth MacFarlane actually won the date from Paramount boss Brad Grey in a high-stakes poker game.

8) Test screenings revealed that audiences overwhelmingly preferred seeing Dwayne Johnson’s acting in 3-D.

7) The studio’s Oscar consultants lobbied for the move, saying Bruce Willis would have a much better shot at a supporting actor nod in 2013.

6) The studio needed more time to complete negotiations for the return of its entire allotment of G.I. Joe action toys after they were mistakenly shipped to Iran last month.

5) The United Nations informed Paramount that releasing “G.I. Joe” on the same day as Channing Tatum’s other film, the male stripper tale “Magic Mike,” would violate the Geneva Conventions' rules on torture.

4) The studio didn’t want to overshadow the fifth-week grosses from “The Dictator.”

3) Market research determined that movies with “Joe” in the title performed far better in March than in June.

2) Dwayne Johnson felt that if the movie were delayed nine months, the press wouldn’t ask him so many questions about “Tooth Fairy.”

And the No. 1 reason why Paramount delayed the release of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”: Getting its last summer movie off the schedule lets everybody at the studio spend the whole month of July in the Hamptons.  

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Paramount delays 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' until 2013

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo:  Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis in a scene from the film "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Credit: Jamie Trueblood / Paramount Pictures


Stale-looking 'That's My Boy' is a raunchy risk for Adam Sandler

May 23, 2012 | 10:22 am


Adam Sandler may be making the biggest gamble of his career this summer. Even though his films have become increasingly family-friendly in recent years, Sandler’s new movie, “That’s My Boy,” due out June 15, is an ultra-raunchy, R-rated comedy that features Sandler as a beer-guzzling, dope-smoking, deadbeat dad who suddenly shows up to wreak havoc on his strait-laced son’s wedding.

Reviews will likely be terrible — not that it matters, because Sandler’s goofball comedy isn’t aimed at the cognoscenti. Critics routinely trash Sandler’s films; last year, his “Jack and Jill” earned a minuscule 3 (out of a possible 100) at the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website. Patrick logo

But after an unparalleled run of success at the box office, chinks are starting to show in Sandler’s armor. And unfortunately for the comedian, Sony Pictures — his home studio, where he enjoys carte blanche — is under financial pressure because of large losses at the parent corporation.

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Will 'Think Like a Man' put director Tim Story on Hollywood A-list?

May 14, 2012 | 10:47 pm

Tim Story directing Taraji P. Henson on the set of the hit comedy "Think Like a Man."

A year ago, Tim Story’s filmmaking career was in deep freeze. Even though the director had enjoyed a groundbreaking hit in 2002 with “Barbershop” and had a pair of successful “Fantastic Four” superhero movies, he ran aground in 2008 when he directed “Hurricane Season,” an inspirational drama about a high-school basketball coach whose ragtag team wins the state championship. The film’s backer, the Weinstein Co., never released it in theaters and sent it straight to video.

But Story now has a ragtag success story of his own. His latest film, “Think Like a Man,” made on a meager $12-million budget, is now a significant comedy hit, having grossed $82 million domestically in its first 24 days of release. Making a comedy with a 7-to-1 box-office-to-budget ratio is a rare feat indeed, the kind of success that normally catapults a director onto the A-list of comedy filmmakers.

GoldsteinBut when I sat down with Story the other day, I was still concerned about his future. He has one big strike against him. He’s African American, and the Hollywood laugh factory is still a very segregated world.

Consider this: Of today’s top comedians — by which I mean Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Kevin James, Vince Vaughn, Seth Rogen, Sacha Baron Cohen and Zach Galifianakis — guess how many of their starring roles have been in a comedy directed by an African American?

Zero.

There are a handful of black directors who’ve had comedy hits with largely African American casts, notably Tyler Perry, the Wayans brothers and Malcolm Lee. There are white comedy filmmakers who’ve had hits with black headliners (Steve Carr, for instance, has worked with Ice Cube and Eddie Murphy). But today’s top white comedy stars have only worked with white filmmakers.

Though Story, 42, would like to have a shot at changing that equation, he is hardly a Spike Lee-style crusader. In fact, when I asked him about his biggest influences, he picked the same names you’d hear from any white filmmaker of his generation.

“First off, I love Woody Allen,” he said, sharing an order of French fries with me at a local eatery. “His early movies, like ‘Hannah and Her Sisters,’ are incredible. I also love anything by Billy Wilder, Ron Howard and John Hughes. I really grew up on the Hughes films, which are the ones I go back and watch all the time, just to see how they were put together. And I’d say Rob Reiner’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is my all-time favorite. It made me realize there’s a way of telling a story where the audience is so in love with the characters that they forget you’re even telling a story.”

You can say the same thing about “Think Like a Man,” a shrewdly assembled ensemble comedy that is so full of engaging character turns and raucous comedy set pieces that you hardly notice its thin story line. The gifted cast is largely African American, but judging from the night I saw the film, it plays just as well with whites and Latinos as black moviegoers.

The movie, released by Sony’s Screen Gems, has put Story back on the map. He’s taking meetings with top executives at studios including Warners, DreamWorks, MGM and Lionsgate. The good news is that the projects he’s being offered aren’t just black character comedies. Having made a pair of superhero films that required a lot of visual effects, Story has the credentials to helm an action comedy or a buddy picture, two of the most popular studio comedy subgenres.

But he’s still working at a disadvantage because he’s a black filmmaker at a time when the people who run today’s studios are overwhelmingly white and not especially well-versed or even particularly curious about African American culture. After “Think Like a Man” opened at No. 1, one studio president decided not to mention the film during the studio’s Monday morning production meeting, curious to see how long it would take to surface as a topic of conversation.

Fifteen minutes into the meeting, no one had mentioned the film. When the studio boss finally brought it up, asking who had seen it over the weekend, the room was silent. None of the all-white staff had bothered to go see it.

This is the cultural chasm that confronts all African American filmmakers.

But the world of comedy is especially insular. To hear insiders tell it, comedy’s top stars don’t work with African American filmmakers because they rarely interact with anyone that isn’t already a member of their very cliquish club. And even though Story has now directed several big hits, those credentials matter little in the comedy universe, the one area in Hollywood that is still ruled by star talent.

“There’s a uniform lack of respect for comedy directors,” says one top producer, citing go-to Adam Sandler director Dennis Dugan as an example. “Dugan’s movies have made hundreds of millions of dollars, but everyone looks at him as a hired hand. The only filmmakers who matter are writer-directors like Judd Apatow or Todd Phillips. If you’ve ever been on an Adam Sandler set, you’d assume that the director was Sandler’s personal assistant, not the guy making the movie.”

Comedy is a very tribal world filled with insecure stars who, except perhaps for Sandler, never know if their new film is going to be a smash or a flop. This breeds a high level of fear and anxiety that inspires most comics to seek out filmmakers who know how many ice cubes they want in their Diet Coke. For comics, having a director who puts them in their comfort zone is more important than the director’s filmmaking skills.

Story says the biggest challenge for him is simply access. “It’s definitely about exposure,” he says. “I did get into the room with Kevin James when he was going to do ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’ and I think my biggest drawback with the studio was that they were worried that I couldn’t bring the movie in on a small budget, since I was coming off a ‘Fantastic Four’ movie that cost $120 million.”

Story isn’t complaining. “I believe that if I can get in the room with talent, I will come so prepared and have such a strong point of view that I’ll impress them. All I want is the same opportunities as the filmmakers I grew up admiring. But you know, I’ve had lots of amazing opportunities to do the movies I wanted to do. If I could write my future, I’d want to keep making character-based films that can make use of my voice as a filmmaker.”

Story is too modest to boast, so let me say it for him: “Think Like a Man” was loaded with great acting talent, but its success is due in most part to Story’s voice as a filmmaker. With the movie on track to top the $90-million mark, it’s time that Hollywood stepped up to the plate. Story just hit a home run. It’s time for him to have his shot in the comedy director big leagues.

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Summer Movie Posse: Movie stars don't cut it with these kids

-- Patrick Goldstein

Follow me on Twitter @patrickbigpix

Photo: Tim Story directing Taraji P. Henson on the set of the hit comedy "Think Like a Man." Credit: Ron Batzdorff/Sony Pictures


The Summer Movie Posse: Tough grades for the season's films

May 8, 2012 |  1:14 pm

Movie posse
With the Summer Movie Posse, it’s the numbers that count. All you really want to know is which film’s trailers got the highest grades — and, of course, which ones totally tanked. I can only offer this word of caution: Asking a group of teenagers to give a grade to a movie trailer is definitely not an exact science.

Sometimes the posse’s assessments are right on the mark. Other times — not so much. In 2010, for example, the posse’s favorite films were “Inception” and “Iron Man 2,” which went on to be big hits. The posse loathed the trailers for “Knight and Day” and “Prince of Persia: Sands of Time,” which indeed went straight to box-office doom.

Patrickgoldsteinbigpicture2

On the other hand, they hated “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” which shot right off into the box-office stratosphere. So the posse certainly isn’t infallible. On the other hand, I wouldn’t bet against them. I find it hard to imagine that “The Campaign,” this year’s favorite, will be a giant hit, since the track record for political comedies is pretty erratic, to say the least. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of their least-favorite films based on trailers, especially “Men in Black 3” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” end up as relative box-office disappointments.  

At any rate, here are this year’s posse scores. Each trailer was graded on a 1-to-10 scale by the posse's 11 members. The highest possible score was 110. Here are the results:

1) "The Campaign"............................................................. 101
2) "The Dictator"................................................................96
3) "The Dark Knight Rises".....................................................88
4) "Dark Shadows"..............................................................86
5) "Ted"..........................................................................85
6) "The Avengers"..............................................................84
7) "Total Recall"................................................................78
8) "That's My Boy"..............................................................72
9) "Snow White and the Huntsman"..........................................70
10) "The Amazing Spider Man"................................................69
11) "Prometheus"...............................................................65
12) "Men in Black 3"............................................................63
13) "G.I. Joe Retaliation"......................................................55
14) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"......................................39

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 — Patrick Goldstein

Follow me on Twitter @patrickbigpix

Photo: From left: Phoebe Kiekhofer, Jeremy Arnold, Aria Lentini, Carrie Grossman, Ariel Astrup, Mica Nafshun-Bone and Jannah Ustaris watch a new movie trailer during a meeting of the annual Summer Movie Posse in Santa Monica. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times.

 


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