Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Wed 29 Apr 2009 2:00 pm   //   Posted in: Movies, Videos

Citizen Kane on the economics of print

“I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thather, at the rate of a million dollars a year I’ll have to close this place in 60 years.” – Citizen Kane

Sun 19 Apr 2009 3:17 pm   //   Posted in: Hard times, Movies

The journalism-proof company

Recently I sat down to watch “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” the 2005 documentary about one of the biggest business failures in American history. This movie literally put me to sleep. Why?

I think it’s because Enron, despite being an epic failure, is just a bad story. Enron traded products like natural gas, something you can’t actually see, and electricity distribution, which is just a concept. “The Smartest Guys in the Room” is stuck using footage of mirrored-glass office buildings with rows of empty workstations inside. The executives profiled in the film aren’t especially interesting. Their motivations—to make money and ruthlessly crush the competition—are easy to understand, and their downfall is a simple morality play. And what exactly happened to Enron is so hard to explain that if the most interesting person in the world told a story about it, you’d be bored to tears.

Enron built a journalism-proof company. Some reporters understood the company was doomed and even managed to get articles published before the company collapsed. Nobody paid any attention. It was just too boring!

The opposite of Enron, in terms off journalism, is General Motors. A proud, historic company, it has tens of thousands of workers and vast acres of American industrial infrastructure at its disposal. You’ve got great visuals: Cars, trucks, gigantic assembly plants, rusting factory towns. You’ve got personal stories of unemployed workers. The product is something almost everyone uses. GM has been the subject of countless books and articles, and two of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen: Roger & Me” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

As a result, everybody knows GM is on the brink of failure—unlike Enron in late 2001.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t lend themselves to popular stories as neatly as GM. Did we really learn anything from Enron? The AIGs and Countrywides and Washington Mutuals and Wachovias and Merrill Lynchs are still poisoning our economy with schenanigans similar to those that brought down Enron. Our economy has stopped rewarding people who create stuff and instead rewards people who trade stuff that already exists. Then it was energy, this time it’s debt and real estate.

Journalists and regulators know what’s going on. Some watchdogs actually bark. The problem is human nature. People don’t want to hear barking, they want to hear a good yarn.

Tue 14 Apr 2009 8:15 am   //   Posted in: Movies, Review, Technology

Spoiler alert

Last night I watched the leaked workprint of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a movie that doesn’t open until May 1. The print appeared online around April 1, much to the dismay of 20th Century Fox, which has vowed to find the person responsible for leaking the file. I used a Web site called The Pirate Bay and a program called Limewire to find and download a Quicktime file; it took about four mouse clicks. Apparently it’s so easy to find a streaming version of the bootleg that one movie critic stumbled upon it by accident.


Mon 23 Mar 2009 12:00 pm   //   Posted in: Movies

“Slumdog Millionaire” in America

I finally saw “Slumdog Millionaire” and it lived up to the hype. Few movies do such a good job with pacing and storytelling. To me, the use of the TV quiz show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” symbolized India’s dream of moving beyond its history of the caste system. Today even a “slumdog” can become rich – on TV.

It made me think about why reality shows are still so popular in the U.S. America has a history of falling short on its promise of opportunity to all, but it’s still a concept that’s built into this country’s fabric. Work hard and you will be rewarded. It usually takes many years of toiling in obscurity, though. Who has patience for that when television can distill the American dream into a quick series of edits? An unknown figure emerges Christ-like from obscurity and is made a star—and there’s still time left for commercial breaks.

Recently, so many people showed up to audition for “America’s Next Top Model” that the crowd grew unruly and the authorities had to shut it down. How little sense does that make? This is a country founded on the idea that anybody can make it. Yet an extraordinary number of people believe the way to realize their dreams is to show up and stand in a big line.

Thu 12 Mar 2009 7:56 am   //   Posted in: Movies, Review

How to fix Watchmen

Saw Watchmen last night. The audience I watched it with (in a 2/3-empty theater) lasted about 90 minutes before it started laughing at the film, rather than taking it seriously. A little comic relief would have helped diffuse all the splattering blood.

Actually, I’m not sure how to have fixed this movie. Rewrite the Columbo-esque dialogue at the ending? Come up with a soundtrack that doesn’t sound like it was sourced from the MP3 collection on the LAN in my college dorm? Make Dr. Manhattan wear pants?

Here’s one person’s hilarious idea: Make it a Saturday Morning cartoon! (Video below.)

Wed 4 Mar 2009 7:50 am   //   Posted in: Hard times, Movies

The economy needs you to watch the Watchmen

“Watchmen” is a tentpole. Some big movies are so important that they’re expected to generate enough money to prop up countless smaller, riskier movies that won’t be as popular. “Watchmen” (which opens Friday, and which I haven’t seen) is so huge and so hyped that it practically has to support an entire media empire.

If “Watchmen” flops, Time For Kids might go out of business. (I’m exaggerating, but only a little.)

Problem is, “Watchmen” looks disappointing. Maybe not a flop on the scale of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” but quite possibly as bad as “V for Vendetta.” I was excited about the movie about a month ago when I read the comic book and wrote a story about a photo book connected to the film. But for several reasons, my enthusiasm has waned. Part of it was reading the last few pages of the comic and not wishing to see those appallingly violent scenes translated to a big screen. The blame also lies with my short attention span: I can’t stay interested in a movie for more than a couple of days, and a month of pre-opening publicity is three weeks too much. The reviews haven’t helped, though bad reviews alone are not a reason to avoid a movie. Either way, my current sentiment is this: I will probably see “Watchmen,” but if I don’t, oh well. I expect many of you feel the same way.

To this, I say: Buck up! Our economy needs us to spend money! A few million $12 movie tickets are quite possibly the only things standing between 86,000 Time Warner employees and the unemployment line. Go see this mediocre film! Watch the Watchmen – for America!

Fri 13 Feb 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Movies, Technology

Two amazing online information graphics

First one: New York Times Box Office Receipts 1986-2008.

Second one: SmartMoney Map of the Market.

Sun 8 Feb 2009 5:18 pm   //   Posted in: Movies, Review

Seeing “Coraline” in 3D

We saw the animated film “Coraline” yesterday at one of the theaters in Times Square that was showing it in 3D. Special glasses required. I can take or leave 3D movies – the gee-whiz factor is offset by the fact that the movie appears darker, and blurrier around the edges, compared to seeing it in 2D.

“Coraline” is similar in style to “Corpse Bride” (co-directed by “Coraline” director Henry Selick and Tim Burton) and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (directed by Burton). These films are beautifully crafted, each one a work of art. I really want to love these movies. But for some reason I find them to be a bit of a let-down. I’ve never been able to pinpoint why.

Do you ever work on a project that involves solving a really hard, interesting problem? And eventually you solve it! But in doing so, you’ve sucked up all the time, energy or budget you need to solve the easier, conventional problems. And so the final product may have been a great expense of creative energy, but it also isn’t as good as you want it to be. I’ve written investigative stories and done online projects that ended up this way. So much good work, so little to show for it.

I think it must be easy for animated movies to fall into this trap. The hard, interesting problem is bringing to life the lifeless. The very act of making “Coraline” is a miracle of patience and hard work. But there are other problems that have to be solved for a movie to be excellent – like story, dialogue and voice acting. In the case of “Coraline,” I should have positively loved a film that includes the vocal talents of John Hodgman and They Might Be Giants (both of Brooklyn, by the way). The children’s book on which the movie is based is supposed to be good. So why do the characters and the story seem so humdrum on the big screen? I think it must have been the script, which somehow doesn’t match the ambition of the animators. But hey, I got a free pair of 3D glasses out of the experience.

Sun 21 Dec 2008 2:39 pm   //   Posted in: Movies, Music

The most offensive holiday movie

One of my favorite ways to celebrate the season is to attend the New York Pops holiday concerts at Carnegie Hall. Last night’s show ended with a sing-along to the song “White Christmas,” a thousand voices filling the concert hall with that familiar and peaceful tune. It was the perfect antidote to Scrooge-ism.

We rode the subway back home, lit up the tree, and surfed around for a Christmas movie to play. Sydney suggested “White Christmas,” but iTunes didn’t have it for rental and Netflix didn’t have it streaming. So I found “Holiday Inn,” the 1942 movie in which the song “White Christmas” first appeared, on Netflix. We hit play and sat back on the couch to watch.

“Holiday Inn” is a vehicle for the talents of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire: A bunch of song-and-dance numbers with some screwball comedy linking them together. Irving Berlin, of course, wrote the music. The movie features a different song for each holiday of the year, and the “White Christmas” scene – the first time audiences ever heard this song, in the middle of a terrible war – is still moving.

But later, the movie gets to a number so awful, it’s unbelievable. The characters put on a show celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday… (more…)

Mon 8 Dec 2008 5:37 am   //   Posted in: Movies

Hey, wha’ happened?

A few years ago, Christopher Guest released a mocumentary about folk music called “A Mighty Wind.” The movie got a few chuckles and then was quickly forgotten by everybody. Hey, wha’ happened?

(That’s actor Fred Willard, whom you might recognize as the only live-action character in Wall-E. Link to clip.)