Thursday, July 09, 2009


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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"Up," up and away

"Pixar's Up increased its tally to $264.8 million in 38 days. It flew past The Incredibles to become the second highest-grossing Pixar movie." -- Brandon Gray, Box Office Mojo, July 6, 2009

A few weeks before Up opened in theaters on May 29, the Times’ ran a story in its Business pages about how shareholders were irked at Disney – and Pixar – because there was no way a movie with a septuagenarian hero, a grumpy widower voiced by Ed Asner, was going to do the kind of box office that previous Pixar titles like Cars and The Incredibles did.
The demographics were all wrong. Kids won’t want to see it. Twentysomethings? They’ll stay away in droves. Toys? What toys?
If Up was even a modest success, it wasn’t going to do the shareholders any good.
So there's the Box Office Mojo report, and the Variety headline from last week: “Up Figures to See Incredible Sights,” with a forecast that not only will Pixar’s Up pass The Incredibles in business, it might even get to Finding Nemo numbers -- the CG animation studio’s top money maker at $340 million. Like its protagonist and his balloon-buoyed domicile, Up continues to ascend.
“I wasn’t sure whether I should be offended or gratified by that article,” Pete Docter, Up’s director and co-writer, said, referring to the Times piece, in an interview a few days before the (yes) mega-hit’s release. “Because they sort of went out of they way to say, well, all signs point to this being a really great film, but we have this issue with the marketability. And I guess I can understand that if you’ve not seen the film.
“When you just pitch it — you know, it’s a 78-year-old man who floats his house — you’d say, `What!?’ But our job has always been the same, and it’s very clear: Don’t worry about marketing. We never approach the films from, `What’s going to appeal to the 8-to-12 year-old-set, blah blah blah.’ We just make movies that speak to us as an audience, knowing that we want to reach everybody else. And (Disney chairman) Bob Iger and (Disney-Pixar animation chief John Lassiter have both said, `Just make great films, that’s your job. And if it happens to work out well with marketing and toys and whatever else, then, great.’ But you know if you put the cart before the horse that way, if you try to just sell toys, I think you know where that goes.
“Our job is just to make sure that the audience feels the movie and is entertained by it, and everything else will fall into place.
“You know, even Toy Story, I remember getting a memo from some marketing folks saying we don’t see the marketing potential in this film!.. I think I still have that somewhere.”

Friday, May 08, 2009

J.J. Abrams talks Trek

J.J. Abrams is on the phone, heading back to L.A. from a round of TV interviews in New York (Charlie Rose, a very funny turn on Stephen Colbert), just a day before his $150 million Star Trek reinvention blasts into orbit. Here's more of what he had to say -- stuff that didn't get into Sunday's On Movies column.

Q: You've said that you were never a huge Star Trek fan. Once you were onboard to direct the film, though, did you go back and look at episodes, some of the other films?

Abrams: Oh sure, I watched a bunch.... I needed to do my homework. But what I didn’t want to do was become like a student of Star Trek, whereby the preexisting series, whether it be television or film, would overly impact or influence what I wanted to do. I felt that the fun of approaching it anew was being able to not be constrained by the rhythms and the style of what came before, and yet I needed to know enough about it to be able to connect it. So it’s a strange thing, it’s almost like I wanted to have the movie be influenced by it, but I didn’t want to be influenced by it.... At a certain point I felt like if I delve too much into the minutae of what they did, and became too connected to it, that I would end up losing my advantage -- I didn’t want to become too much of a fan that I would suddenly be making the movie out of the desire to be consistent, as opposed to out of the desire to do something that felt relevant. Obviously the fundamental building blocks of this movie were literal connections to what had come before. So it wasn’t as if we desperately needed to find a way to make this feel more like Star Trek. We had Kirk and Spock, we had the fundamentals — so that was a point of departure in terms of the pacing, rhtyhm and tone of the thing.

Q: Can you talk about the ideas behind casting a bit? Did you have anyone in mind, going in?

Abrams: I had never met any of the main actors before with the exception of John Cho and Simon Pegg. And Eric Bana I actually had met as well, and he was someone I wanted to work with for a long time and felt very lucky that we got. But the only person who I knew needed to be in the movie was Nimoy, and if he had said no we would have been completely screwed.
As for Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, our Kirk and Spock... well, we were re-casting these iconic characters, and we had to find actors that would take the inspiration of those original actors but not do an impersonation of them. That was critical. On the one hand, there was more pressure than I had ever felt before, in terms of casting, because clearly there was a certain level of expectation and familiarity that some of the audience had. And then on the other hand, it was like any project: you’re desperately looking for the actor who will own it, where it won’t even be a discussion, it will just be obvious.… And Chris and Zachary, well, that's what happened.

Q: Star Trek's vision of the future is nowhere near as dark, gloomy, apocalyptic, as most of the sci-fi that's out there now. Was that one of the things that appealed to you about taking this on?

Abrams: Very much so. I felt that as I worked on the story with the writers and producers and then when I finally read the script, it felt optimistic, it felt refreshing, it felt fun. And I think that there have been so many movies in recent years — and many of which I’ve really enjoyed — that have depicted a cynical and grim and unpleasant future. And again, I’ve been a fan of so many of them. But there was something about this that just felt distinctly hopeful.... That there was something extraordinary, and extraordinarily good, coming down the pike was something that felt — that I realized I was hungry for. It was one of the things that really compelled me to direct the movie.... And a hopeful, optimistic future is never a bad thing to get a glimpse of.

Q: Speaking of hope and optimism, what do you make of the comparisons in the media beween Spock and Obama? The calm, unemotional, rational, logical mind?

Abrams: I’ve heard and read people making that connection. But I think it’s less about any one character, for me -- it’s less about Spock and more about [Gene] Roddenberry. It’s more about the world of Trek. Spock is a wonderful and a kind of cool, complex character, but he’s sort of half of the yin-yang of Kirk and Spock. I think that the beauty of both of these characters is that it’s not until they come together that they can accomplish almost anything. So, for me, it’s not about, you know, "elect Spock," or "elect Kirk." For me it’s the ideal that you don’t want logic without the gut instinct, and you don’t want gut instinct without the ability to understand the conditions, the strategy, the enemy you’re up against.
And the idea of having a president in office who is a hopeful, optimistic one seems like more a byproduct of people being hungry for that kind of hope. I can just say that it was the same hunger that fueled our making his movie, starting three years ago.

Q: So Kirk and Spock, not quite Biden and Obama?

Abrams: I’ll leave that to someone else to make the call.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

In a Dream, at the Bourse

Filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar and the subjects of his powerful, award-wining doc In a Dream , Isaiah and Julia Zagar, will be on hand to field comments and questions this opening weekend, April 17, 18 and 19, at the Ritz At the Bourse. Look for them Friday and Saturday at the 7:20pm and 9:35pm shows, and on Sunday at 5:10pm and 7:20pm.

Also, an important clarification in my article on Jeremiah Zagar. In a description of the family events that unfold in the film, I write about Ezekiel Zagar, Jeremiah's brother, and say that he "is in and out of rehab." That is to say that he checked into a detox program and then checked out of it successfully. I in no way meant to imply that he was in a revolving door situation.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Jason and Paul, the bromance begins

Jason Segel and Paul Rudd had known each other for a while -- they're in a couple of scenes together in Knocked Up -- but it wasn't until the pair were in Hawaii shooting the Segel-scripted Forgetting Sarah Marshall that they truly bonded.
It's a bond that serves them well in I Love You, Man, which is, after all, about male bonding.

"That was a rare experience," says Segel about making Forgetting Sarah Marshall. "We filmed at the same hotel where we stayed. It was a very insulated environment. We’d film during the day and then at night we would all just convene at the pool bar, and Paul and I became really good friends there. I think when we got the opportunity to do a buddy movie together it just seemed right.

"We really are familiar with each other's moods, and we both love comedy... we’re students of comedy, you know. Like he and I will sit around and quote Monty Python or the Mighty Boosh. We learned each other’s moves, which makes it very easy to play off of each other."

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Pilgrim's" progress

Mark Webber, whose directing debut Explicit Ills just opened here, is off to Toronto to start work on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World -- the Edgar Wright-directed adaptation of the Bryan Lee O'Malley graphic novels about a rock-and-roll dude who has to kick into kung fu mode in order to defeat a gang of evil ex-boyfriends of the girl he loves. Michael Cera stars as Pilgrim, and Webber's character, one of Scott's bandmates, is called Stephen Stills.

"I am like SO excited, it’s such a cool project," says Webber. "Edgar Wright is the Man. Shaun of the Dead is like one of my favorite movies of the last five years, the way he was able to blend these different genres together was fascinating to me.... He's the master of the action comedy pop drama."

As for playing Stills, "I'm not literally the guy from Crosby, Stills & Nash," Webber chuckles. "There’s also a character named Young Neil. That’s what's really awesome about the books is that there are all these little inside jokes and this funny commentary on hipsters....

"So me and Michael Cera are in this rock band together, trying to get gigs and play these big shows, and in the process he has to get into these crazy kung fu battles with this girl’s evil ex-boyfriends. It’s wild, man."

Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans and Johnny Simmons also star, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Death Proof, Live Free or Die Hard) as Ramona V. Flowers, the girlfriend with the seven maniacal exes.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

3-D blows chunks – right at ya!

Went to an advanced screening of Monsters vs. Aliens at the Bridge Wednesday night and I lasted oh, I dunno, 15 minutes. Trouble with the 3-D projection system rendered the screen images blurry, as everybody sat there in the dark with those dorky Real D glasses on…. Things were fixed momentarily (on screen: a dweeb playing with one of those rubber balls tied to a racket things, and the ball seemingly bounces out right at your nose). But then the screen went fuzzy and double-lined again.

The other problem with 3-D: the tinted glasses makes the screen image darker than it should be, so even a bright, vibrant DreamWorks ’toon loses its luster.

Eventually, the projectionist fixed things, I’m told, but I had already quit the theater – more convinced than ever that 3-D is just another lame gimmick, despite what Jeffrey Katzenberg has to say.