Nick & Nora's

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The Golden Compass" Will (probably) Bomb.

Here's why.

Particularly if the early talk is anything to go on. The primary buzz around the film at the moment is the predictable boycotting from religious groups, sadly fanning the flames of infamy by contributing incendiary myths of dangerous heresy to an average series of books, wholly not good or widely read enough to be 'dangerous to the public morals' or to 'raise up a new generation of atheists'. Indeed from my experience, the book's primary acolytes appear to be already well-entrenched youngish adult atheists, happy to see their own views find a high-minded advocate with children.

Rumor has it New Line is waiting on the results of Compass to see if The Subtle Knife is worth pressing ahead with; a single wise choice among a series of bad ones. There are simple reasons this film is most likely to be an underperformer.

Budget. At over 200mil sans marketing, this is, tragically, struggling New Line's seasonal tentpole project. They've invested an arm and a leg in it, and are expecting, indeed needing it to perform like a top-tier fantasy film in the holy triumvirate of Frodo, Harry, and Aslan. Necessary domestic returns are expected to be in the 290 - high 300's to keep it afloat. Let's have a quick look at the BO history of fantasy films. (courtesy of

The numbers say if you're not one of the big three, your chances are dismal. The dropoff levels between the unstoppable trinity and even the closest competitors is a veritable chasm, for a few simple reasons. Fantasy films are a hard emotional sell. Auds need to feel reasonably familiar with a premise before they'll invest their money, and an evening out in it. Narnia and Rings have decades of accumulated cultural capital, and a global fanbase in the hundreds of millions. Potter is a recent phenomenon, but a mega-phenomenon nonetheless. It's a household name that no matter how Pullman's advocates (or those who pitched the film) try to spin it, the Materials trilogy simply can't touch for name-awareness.

It's a critical darling, it's a favorite in literary circles, but it's not a household name. And unless you're a conscientious reader of young adult fiction, you probably don't know much about it. Yet it's being given a bigger budget than Narnia. 50 million bigger, in fact. What about this isn't adding up?

Dissonance of Medium. Aka, "Sure, it worked as a book..."
Success in the literary market is obviously no guarantee of success in the film world, especially for a type of film known as a blockbuster. A successful blockbuster is a synthesis. The first ingredient is "Can't miss this" content that tugs at your soul in a primal way. The trailer gives you goosebumps. The stakes are high; danger is everywhere, and the conflict and villains are clearly defined and intense. You want to see it. You need to see it. It appeals to something ancient and universal.

Compass lacks this absolutely critical clarity and punch in its moral dilemmas, its villains, its story, and its characters. Response to the trailer among neophytes has been a mixture of confusion and disdain. People think the film either has no clear focus, or simply looks bad. (actually, both are true.) Likewise, we see movies to be built up; not to have our worlds torn down. We long for positivity and affirmation; not pale-eyed cynicism and muttered contempt for this institution or that. (as recently evidenced by the Blockbuster status of Enchanted, though that's worth an essay in itself) HDM tugs at portions of the mind; affirming cynicism of institutions and society, and devotes it's positiveness toward an abstract sense of human 'self' above all that may resonate with certain intellectuals as a sort of Ayn Rand for kids, but nobody else. Subtextual hatred of God and religion may be red meat to small groups of ideological fanatics; but even among everyday nonreligious agnostics, it's not an idea that's likely to ignite the sort of fire in the belly required to fill seats.

The themes gratify portions of our intellect, but it doesn't, can't, tug at our collective souls. This kind of material in concert with some nice language and brisk storytelling can succeed in the literary market. But it does not historically sell 300-400 million domestic dollars in movie tickets.

There are a host of other reasons as well. Rumor is the anti-religious tenor was toned down for the film, which risks turning the central villains and conflicts into mush; something you absolutely cannot do and expect to survive. You don't bring compromised, emotionally castrated, half-product to market with this much invested in it. With so much apparently going wrong here, I can't help feeling this entire venture amounts to spending two hundred million dressing up a donkey as a stallion, and pushing it onto the track at the kentucky derby with a ticket in your hand and a hopeful expression.

Though this may be understandable in light of the fact that Compass is being executive produced by Robert Shaye; leftie New Line bigwig who directed another misguided act of pseudo-leftist cinematic hubris known as 'The Last Mimzy' earlier this year, which also went on to catastrophic boxoffice returns. In fact, his producing credits yield all of two significant hits in twenty years; one was Hairspray, the other, a certain trilogy about Hobbits. For the unitiated; two comparable films from recent years are Superman Returns, and Jackson's King Kong. Both cost upward of 200mil, both returned almost exactly 200mil, and were roundly considered bombs. It was an uphill climb to 200, and these films already had a wealth of cultural capital behind them; far, far more than Materials currently does. And they had the added benefit of actually being pretty good films, too. Viewed in light of these facts, Compass's prospects seem almost catastrophically dire.

Word is if this thing tanks, heads will roll at New Line. If my analysis is correct, I'll be waiting at the end of the red carpet with my trusty mitt. My current estimate if all goes well? Between 140-180m domestic.

Note: Just as an official qualifier, these are all estimations. Boxoffice is notoriously difficult to predict, and dark horses break out and become surprise hits all the time. Compass may be fantastic. It may be a 400mil hit. I'm fully open to the idea that this may happen here. But I'm not counting on it.


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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Some Thoughts on Church: Introduction

By Nora

I used to be an avid reader of the Internet Monk ( I still frequent his site and think it's one of the best places on the net to get an honest, interesting, often humorous look at the Church today. I totally recommend it. Have a look at the site and enjoy yourself. However in recent months I've done little more then pop by. He spends a lot of (worthy) time addressing what going on in Christian culture. "The Emerging Church." "The Missional Church." "Post-Evangelicalism." etc. I've been pulling away from that in an attempt to enjoy something of my recent move into exploring more traditional, orthodox Christianity without feeling a need to label myself and align with a particular segment of Christianity. I think its important here to note that this is a process I'm going through, not an end and I'm very aware of that. I think I'm in what C.S. Lewis would call "the hallway." "It is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in."

That being said, you can't go to any church long without picking up the buzz of whats going on on a larger scale within Christian culture in the West. So I'd like to make some comments about what I've been seeing and experiencing within the Church recently via a series of posts. But first, some preliminary information to give you perspective.

Here is the shorthand version of my church-life (not my Christian life, again, another story.) I was raised in a very non-traditional church. And by that I do not mean that we used a slide projector instead of hymnals. Non-traditional means things like a) Not celebrating Christmas/Easter/birthdays b) No interest in the last 2000 years of Christian teaching c) No belief in the Trinity (ok, everybody gasp.) among a lot of other things (no, not Jehovah's Witness.) I eventually left this Church as it began to fall into disarray. After coming to a better theological understanding I began exploring churches of the Evangelical tradition in my teen years and was not at all impressed (for reasons I'll get to). I went through a couple years of feeling bitter and disappointed and did not attend Church. Eventually, I felt I wanted to try again. I thought what I was looking for was a place that was as far removed from Traditional Christianity in appearance as possible. People who wanted to meet together and love the Lord and not bother about anything else. People who wanted to get back to what the early, "unspoiled" Church was like. This led to a short time of half-hearted attendance in a very modern Evangelical sort of church (where no one dresses up, the preacher walks around a lot and everyone is very cool and with-it.) This was an unsatisfying experience. Almost by accident, I ran across the Orthodox Church which captured my attention. My research and reading challenged a lot of what I thought Traditional Christianity was all about. Still, there were many doctrines of Orthodox church that I felt I couldn't swallow, such as praying to saints, Mary being a perpetual virgin, etc. I began looking for a Church that would not compromise what I have come to understand as sound doctrine, yet could somehow embrace the wisdom and tradition of the past 2000 years of Christian experience.

At this point, I became friends with an Anglican who greatly challenged my understanding of that communion. I had always conceived of the Anglicans as Catholics without the Pope who go about marrying gay couples, sprinkling unsuspecting babies, and wearing funny costumes. I was very much set straight on this and a year ago I began attending a fairly traditional Anglican church. I am enjoying myself immensely. After a year, I want to take some time to reflect on my experience. Be warned, however, I do not have everything figured out yet. The following posts will be, in part, a way for me to sort out a lot of my experience and thoughts by sharing them with others....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

GRINDHOUSE Ground underfoot at BO. The Not-So-Simple 'Why'.

Harvey Weinstein's head from space, hours after Grindhouse hits theaters.

The online world's community of film critics, net geeks, and cinephiles is burning with righteous anger over the failure of one of the year's most hyped and unusual films. Grindhouse is an ultraviolent, ultra-profane, pornographically nasty celebration of a bygone era of cinematic trash that came into its element in the mid 70's and early 80's.

And frankly, it looked pretty cool. Not that I'm an advocate of such cinematic vices for their own sake, but I've always been of the opinion that the writing in a single episode of 'Friends' does more to unravel the essential moral fabric of society than all the 'Sin City's' and 'Kill Bill's in the world ever could. Even deliberate violence and sleaze of this sort has at it's dark heart an unshakable moral assertion that confesses a profound wrongness of the world that needs correcting; even if it uses antiheroes and exploitive violence to go there.

While that's hardly enough reason to raise exploitation pictures and general trash on a pedestal, it's far less destructive than your average sitcom, in which every character without fail lives in a world miraculously insulated from moral dilemmas or consequences. Promiscuity, unfaithfulness, selfishness are glazed over with laugh tracks, creating a cozy, indistinct world where nothing matters, and all our worst impulses and behaviours are reduced to a "Waddyagonnado?!" shrug. Meanwhile, canned laughter whisks away any niggling moral dilemmas with the surgical efficiency of sunglasses-clad presidential bodyguards removing a heckler from a rally.

With this in mind, I was anticipating Grindhouse. As the late Pauline Kael said, "Film are so rarely great art, that if can't appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." I love good cinematic trash. My dvd collection sports such gems as Plan 9 From Outer Space, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Super-InfraMan; a chinese grindhouse/chop-socky bit of lunacy, the legendarily ghastly 'Robot Monster', and so on.

I even have an appreciation for Tarantino and Rodriguez. I enjoyed Sin City very much, and likewise Kill Bill 2. (Vol1 is a different story) And while for other reasons I ended up choosing not to see it, the online community in question is aghast at it's failure.

Some critics have devolved their discussion of it's BO into a venomous 'red-state blue-state' tirade; spewing the expected liberal contempt that suburban rubes just didn't know what was good for them, ala a commentary by critic Jeffry Wells:

"We're really and truly living in the United States of Hong Kong -- a sprinkling of sophisticated urban havens surrounded on all sides by a massive Gorilla Nation. Two different planets, two different worlds...the high and the low...hip urbanity vs. the mentality of the mall."

Some postulated that the length scared people away. Others, the violence. Yet there are definite boxoffice exceptions to all these assertions. Violent films, even ones freakishly so, are profitable all the time. So are long ones, and on and on. They're arguing over demographics. Length. Style. Marketing. Season. (Is easter a good time to release such a thing) Absolutely everything except the thing that matters.


While I'm not going to go on a typical liberal tirade about the awfulness of Joe Sixpack's taste in movies, (and everything else) let's get a few things clear. Not everyone is a cinephile. Not everyone is a film geek, and not everyone has a historical grounding in film sufficient to whet the appetite for good schlock.

They made a critical mistake in marketing it (and possibly making it) as a kitschy 'schlock' masterpiece.
I shall reiterate, this is not to say that people don't like trash, or even shocking, violent trash. Saw, Hills Have Eyes remakes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes, etc, all found an audience.

the people seeing these films simply believe they are seeing 'good cinema', and would bristle at the suggestion that they are enjoying sensational, manipulative garbage for its own sake. Non-cinephiles who enjoy really bad films are largely immune to the fact that what they're seeing is a bad film. How many teenage girls (and indeed, grown people) have you met who insist Armageddon is their favorite film because it's so emotional? Armageddon is indeed a dreadful film; but wait a minute; that teenage girl is still correct. It contains heroes. It contains sacrifice. It is 'emotional'.

In part, the success of Grindhouse would have required mainstream moviegoers to possess greater self-awareness about what they watch and why. Hollywood pictures actively work to smother that self awareness. This is done by infamous last-minute justifications of trash; like the tacking on of morals or sentiment, the halfhearted attempts at relevance or a message, usually in the closing minutes of the third act when in the midst of all the blood and carnage and fun stuff, the characters stop to think about the significance of it all. These are invariably the worst and most contrived-feeling scenes in any hollywood feature or tv show.

But for all our disdain, they're always included because they provide the undeniable critical element:
At the very least, the facade of a story and moral significance to justify the carnage. 300 has it. The Saw films have it. Virtually any successful film has had it. It's a storytelling 101 non-negotiable rule to success. That is the one thing I believe Grindhouse lacked utterly, and why it tanked. And why it still has a shot at BO redemption if the two films are released seperately, and the marketing shifts gears to make them look like more legitimate stories rather than a kitsch time-capsule existing for its own sake.

The absolute basics of storytelling (and yes, screenwriting) tell us unequivocally that human beings are profoundly moral creatures. We seek it, we respond to it, we fight against it, but we can't escape it. For all the alleged cultural success of our post-Christian, morally relativistic, politically-correct social neutering, our appetites for irony, nihilism, relativism and artistic self-mockery remain positively anemic. Our appetite for good stories with brightly burning moral centers that believe in themselves is limitless; even when those good stories are told badly.

If you're not gonna be about something, you at least have to fake it. Hollywood is good at faking it. (or not, depending on your point of view) Grindhouse didn't even try to fake it. For cynical cinephiles who believe Hollywood is at it's stupidest when it tries to act smart, this is a breath of fresh air. Everyone else will stay far, far away.

300 to use an example, is an extremely problematic, and certainly not-great film. It contains many of the factors being discussed in Grindhouse's failure. No stars, too stylized, too violent, wrong time of year. But it also has a clear moral center, (Fight! For Freedom!) and simple, larger-than-life heroes burning brightly. Historically accurate? Who cares? Bad guys get their comeuppance in monsoons of beautifully realized digital gore, a hero's a hero, a man's a man, and that's that. And a little 60 million dollar film will be one of 2007's top earners.
Now that the Weinsteins are in Grindhouse hock up to their eyeballs, it might be a good time to rediscover that.


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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Review: Meet the Robinsons, and The Catharsis of The New Disney.

Lamentably, in all of Toronto, MTR is only playing in 3D in the wastelands of suburbia. Figure that one out. Nevertheless, I braved the crowds and checked it out in plain ol' 2D, and I'm happy to report I enjoyed the heck out of it.

For starters, 'Robinsons' doesn't come across nearly so desperate or forced in its humor as Chicken Little or Open Season, and never approaches the overall dullness of every WDFA feature since The Lion King (though I myself am not a fan) The time-travel story contains some genuine surprises (even though they're likely to go over the heads of kids) and Lewis is easily the most deeply-felt Disney protag since Lilo.

Even better, the film is marvellously flatulence-free, light on pop-culture nonsense, (seriously, who's still watching the original Shrek? Even the trailers for Shrek the Third feel tired before the film's even been released) and never sinks into peurility or crassness for the sake of squeezing a cheap laugh out of the kiddies while their parents frown and lament the state of family fare. The family-discovery-time-travel plot crackles under the machinations of a villain named Bowler Hat Guy. A classic developmentally-arrested baddie with bad teeth and a penchant for hilariously vaudevillian moustache-twirling.

There was so much good stuff I just wished it would slow down. I wanted to spend more time in this world and get to know the characters a little better. Another 5-7 minutes, perhaps added to the perfunctory character introductions could have made it perfect. But perhaps such a degree of cohesiveness is too much to ask from a film with seven credited writers, not including the gargantuan re-writes 'recommended' by WDFA's new Chief Creative Officer, Pixar helmsman John Lasseter.

Despite these quibbles, Robinsons is still a wonderful cinematic achievement. But more importantly, it does an admirable job as a symbol for the change in the Disney culture that the film is obviously intended to represent. Shaking off years of mediocre films with equally disappointing boxoffice and critical reaction, plus the recent talk of canning their justifiably-maligned direct-to-video division, the Disney brass is obviously hoping Robinsons is going to represent a turnaround in their theatrical image after over a decade of trouncing by Pixar and Dreamworks.

Indeed, the entire production seems infused with a spirit of cathartic healing. From the newly designed/presented WDFA logo intended to cement Walt Disney Feature Animation's own unique and distinct identity with a clear link to its roots, to the classic Mickey Mouse short that precedes the film (a rare and magical theatrical experience all by itself, particularly for fans of vintage animation) to the epilogue quote by Walt at the end, the entire production screams "Things will be different from now on. We promise."

Here's hoping. If the Robinsons are any indication, they're off to a solid start at a promising rebirth. Just don't be afraid to slow down a bit now, guys. Please?


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Animation Update: Rapunzel Unbraided and Ratatouille

Howdy hey, folks. Forgive the lack of updates recently! In the last seven weeks or so I've come down with two wicked colds, broken a molar, been promoted to Animation Supervisor at my studio, and taken a much-belated honeymoon to Disney World for five days.

Looks like N&N was proven right with our tidbit a few weeks back about "Rapunzel Unbraided" being in some major story trouble. Jim Hill Media reports:

Don't get me wrong, folks. Glen Keane's directorial debut still looks as though it will be " ... a film of astonishing beauty" loaded with lush visuals. It's just the proposed storyline of this still-in-development animated feature that now appears to be on the slim side.

Mind you, back in the late summer of 2006, Keane reportedly showed Lasseter the first 20 minutes of the most recent version of "Rapunzel." And John was allegedly very lavish in his praise, saying that it was the strongest opening of a Disney fairy tale film that he'd ever seen. The only problem is ... Glen & his team are still struggling to come up with a satisfying second & third act for their animated version of "Rapunzel."

I personally hope this project can be salvaged. However, there's going to be lots of politics and ego-bruising going on between two heavyweights like Lasseter and Keane; two 800 pound gorillas from different eras and cultures thrashing it out so lets hope it gets done at all.

In Ratatouille news, Brad Bird's adopted picture will apparently not be 100% CG animation. My super-secret sources inform me that the first ten minutes of Ratatouille will in fact, be 2D. Yes, traditional, hand-drawn animation, allegedly in the style of the classic Disney short 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom', currently available in the excellent 'Disney Rarities' set. Even more surprising is that apparently, the 2D work will be completed in-house! Quite likely from some of Pixar's abundant 2D-turned-3D talent who were no doubt happy to replace the mouse for a pencil, even if just for a short while.


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Friday, February 09, 2007

Anna Nicole: She Sure Got Nude.

The news and entertainment media was shocked and horrified yesterday to find that one of their purest offspring, a braindead pill-popping porno-chick was found dead in a pool of her own vomit, surrounded by pills and narcotics. Her life was a constant embarassing and tragic shambles which the media documented with unending prurient glee. Staggering from one disastrous embarassment to another, culminating in the release of her reality TV show on which she was always appeared drunk, pilled-up, or both. It was one of those shows that makes you look to the skies longingly for signs of an incoming death-ray from benevolent Moon Men.

Now that she's dead of course, everything's different. MSNBC among others, is leading the charge to give her a legacy, attempting to legitimize and bronze an essentially worthless life that they otherwise exploited every minute of. Must be a slow news month.

But hey, this is important. She's one of their own. Smith was the ultimate student of media values, and nary a finger will be layed on her now. Her life is being described as "Short and tragic", rather than the more apt "Idiotic and immoral" or "Exploitive, pornographic, shameful and bereft of significance." or "What the hell was she thinking all those years?" or even "Well no kidding. This was pretty much inevitable, wasn't it?"

I do not wish to trivialize her death. It is indeed, tragic. And it was also entirely avoidable. Anna was simply a student of the times. She went down in the flames of the avoidable immoral idiocy that the media and academia champion so fervently, and will therefore be given a Monroe-esque legacy as someone who lived fast and hard, died young, and left a puke-covered silicony corpse. But not before leaving the world her greatest gift; the sight of her airbrushed surgery-jobs splayed all over Playboy for teenage boys to dehumanize. She did everything right shy of nailing a Kennedy. (as far as we know.)

The media will make her a hero. With a resume like that, how could they not? Consistency is important.


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Friday, February 02, 2007

An Inconvenient Academy:
Al Gore and the Oscars. Like Sleeping With Your Cousin.

My contempt for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (or AMPAS) is well documented. The Academy is not some group of respectable creative types. The Academy is not some counsel of elders any smarter than you or me. 'The Academy' is just Hollywood. The Oscars are Hollywood congratulating itself in a multimillion dollar promotional presentation for producing half a dozen films out of several hundred that don't resemble the same dog-hair encrusted fecal matter that the rest of their films do.

Good work guys. Get back to me when your track record is any better than 1/400.

Earl Torgeson, genuine AMPAS voter.

See, most of the time, Hollywood's content to produce films that are merely astonishingly stupid, putting their audience on the level approximately of a trained ape chewing on a milk carton. When Oscar season rolls around, they dust off their idea caps and produce films that are not merely stupid, but also philosophically sloppy, profoundly immoral, or usually both. These are often the ones that go on to win major awards. So what could be a more perfect marriage of cultural-political stupidity than for Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' to be nominated? Folks, this one exploded my irony meter and nobody even seems to realize it's funny.

I work in the television business. Let me be clear here. The entertainment biz is full of morons. Not sprinkled here and there, but a full-blown infestation, in high and low places alike. Talent and intellect are not king. People survive not just through talent (though it happens) but through manipulation, through backstabbing, and through the sheer force of their personalities. Right or wrong.

Most of hollywood is stupid.

Most of hollywood is also incredibly naive.

Virtually all of Hollywood is incredibly leftist.

Of course, Hollywood is the perfect breeding ground for liberals. Where else does one find such a perfect storm of shrill, insecure self-absorbed neurotics, the deification of emotion, religious dedication to the unreal, and unvarnished contempt for the intelligence of the common man? The conditions are flawless. Hollywood is the ideal ideo-social petri dish of liberalism.

And they're basically all children as this nomination shows. Alas, in a more sophisticated and skeptical age, we might have viewed films made by government officials with a modicum of skepticism. We're wary to trust them on the news, but we prostrate ourselves before them when they're given unchecked access to a budget of millions and a professional editor, and are professing to explain things that the general public has absolutely no means of understanding, verifying, or criticising.

So let's give him the most prestigious award in the industry.

In a more enlightened age, we'd unhesitatingly call such a production 'propaganda', whether it was correct in its assertions or not. Our children will look back on this era the way we look back on June and Ward Cleaver. With a head-shake and laugh, and hopefully a feeling of vastly greater sophistication over that bafflingly naive blip in the history of the west.

"Pop, were people really that gullible back then?"

"Yes, Junior, they were."

"But those were politicians saying the world was gonna end unless you gave em all that money and power to control stuff! Like that crazy guy on TV on sunday mornings that begs for money!"

"Golly, folks were dumb back then!"


Then we'll be forced to explain that these were the same people that needed widescreen, multimillion dollar documentary presentations to educate them in such matters of subtlety like 'fox news is conservative' and 'fast food is bad for you'. Forget June and Ward and the postwar 'Aw, shucks Mister!' generation. This is the golden age of naive.


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