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The SAG Awards – Notice A Difference?

Monday, February 1st, 2016

The Screen Actors Guild Awards stand in stark contrast to the 2016 Oscar Nominations.

As Pete Hammond wrote in Deadline, “there can be no question that diversity was the story of the night at the 22nd Annual SAG Awards, especially in terms of the television wins which were dominated by Idris Elba and a host of African American television stars.

Certainly in light of all the controversy surrounding Oscar’s second year in a row of an all-white acting lineup, the SAG results this year will draw headlines as a direct comparison to what we are going to be seeing on Oscar night, even though the comparison is somewhat unfair as nearly all of these diverse winners came from the far more inclusive television side of things, and many such as Uzo Aduba, her show Orange Is The New Black and Viola Davis repeated their same SAG victories from last year.

As Elba, who won Best Male Actor in a movie or mini for his series Luther, as well as Male Actor In a Supporting Role for the film Beasts Of No Nation, said when he came out later to present a clip from Beasts, ‘welcome to diverse TV.’ That was just about the only reference to the big story of recent days, one in which Elba was often mentioned as having been unfairly passed over for an Oscar nod for Beasts.”

Added Scott Feinberg in Variety, “as if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needed some more salt thrown into the gaping wound it suffered upon the announcement of this year’s Oscar nominations, the 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards produced the most diverse set of winners in the event’s history.

With Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs sitting in the audience, Idris Elba was awarded the best supporting actor prize for his performance in Beasts of No Nation — one that the Academy’s actors branch didn’t even nominate — and there were many other winners of color on the TV side, including Elba, again, for Luther; Uzo Aduba for Orange Is the New Black (which also won best comedy series); Queen Latifah for Bessie; and Viola Davis for How to Get Away With Murder. And in a nod toward gender diversity, Jeffrey Tambor won for his portrayal of a trans woman in Transparent.

It all was enough to make one wonder if the most effective way to reform the Academy might be to invite the thousands of guild members — including the 160,000 who belong to SAG-AFTRA, the largest union of actors in the world — to help pick the Oscar nominees, as they used to do decades ago.” It’s all very interesting, and heartening to see a much wider group of talented people honored here – and it puts the upcoming Academy Awards race in even better perspective. We’ll have to see what happens when that rolls around.

See the complete list of SAG winners by clicking here, or on the image above.

The Star Wars Juggernaut

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be the most commercially successful film of all time.

As Anthony D’Alessandro and Anita Busch write in what is arguably the entertainment industry’s most authoritative business news website, Deadline Hollywood, ”industry analysts currently see Star Wars: The Force Awakens with an opening day record of $125M-$127M+ en route for an all-time record opening of $251M-$255M, calculated from midnight tickets sales on both the east and west coast.

To put Force Awakens’ opening in perspective, consider the following: Disney made $100M from the film in just 21 hours at 1PM PST; an amount that most successful tentpoles open to in a 3-day weekend. By Sunday, Force Awakens will beat or come close to beating the entire domestic runs of the last two Hobbits which were released over the last two Decembers— The Desolation of Smaug ($258.4M) and The Battle of Five Armies ($255.1M). It took Jurassic World five days to cross $250M.

Domestic all-time grosser Avatar, which opened during this frame back in 2009 to $77M and ended its stateside cume at $749.8M, took 12 days to clear $250M. However, that was during the pre-historic days of digital and 3D cinema. When Avatar opened there were 3,100 RealD screens in the U.S./Canada; now there are 14,000 with the majority of them playing Force Awakens.”

As I write this, screenings of the new Star Wars film are literally going on around the clock, with some theaters staying open 24/7 to meet audience demand.  This is all very good news for the Walt Disney Company, which owns the rights not only to the Star Wars franchise, but also the whole of Marvel Entertainment, just for starters – two of the current industry’s most profitable money-spinners.

Although some see signs of fan fatigue in the distance, I can’t agree - while I am resolutely not a Star Wars fanI’ll side with Alec Guinness in his opinion of the franchise – there’s no question that this 1977 film which started out as an indie film no one wanted has become a totemic part of our shared worldwide cinema culture. With Disney’s plans to roll out another episode in the series one a year for the next fifteen years, it seems there is no end in sight.

If this what audiences want in an era of terrorism and fear, so be it. It is, however, disturbing that more thoughtful screen fare has been pushed off the big screen into the limbo of VOD or the increasingly marginal art house circuit, but as always in Hollywood, the bottom line rules.

As far as The Force Awakens, I’ll have to agree with Sam C. Mac of Slant - “it exists less as a meaningful extension of its world than as a fan-service deployment device” – or J.R. Jones of The Chicago Reader – “as with other installments, this is less a movie than an exercise in massaging a juvenile-minded audience that wants the experience to be new and familiar at the same time” – and Roger Moore of Movie Nation -”a glib facsimile” – but then again, these are minority opinions.

So I’ll make a prediction of my own; when the film finally exhausts itself at the box office – just this installment, mind you – I predict (channeling The Amazing Criswell here) that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will gross more than two billion dollars worldwide, to recoup roughly half the $4 billion that Disney paid to buy the entire franchise a few years back from George Lucas. And, as the box office numbers clearly show, this was a very smart business decision indeed.

May The Force Be With You!

Quentin Tarantino Explains Why 70MM Film Is Better Than Digital

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Click here, or above to see Quentin Tarantino and DP Robert Richardson shooting The Hateful Eight

As notes in Deadline Hollywood, “when Quentin Tarantino first discussed his vision with the Weinstein Co. to resurrect the roadshow picture for his eighth title The Hateful Eight in 70MM, there was one major hurdle to overcome: How could the cinema format be rebooted if most theaters don’t even have the equipment?

In a digital cinema age, few theaters own reel-to-reel projectors, let alone a 70MM machine. While these projectors were still common in the 1990s when Universal released Ron Howard’s immigrant epic Far and Away, by today’s standards they’re antiques.

All heads at the Weinstein Co. turned to Erik Lomis to meet this challenge. While his daily oversee at TWC as distribution chief entails booking titles in the widest number of theaters, Lomis was suddenly tasked with a rescue and secure mission akin to Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield’s in Pulp Fiction: To obtain as many 70MM projectors for the roadshow release of Hateful Eight on Christmas Day.

‘In order to play the best theaters, we had to get them the equipment,’ says Lomis, ‘we bought into Quentin’s vision and we’re making it happen or we’ll die trying.’ Luckily, Lomis had a learning curve with the 70MM situation and the glitches that could arise when he released Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master in September 2012. While Anderson shot in 65MM, the filmmaker didn’t insist on a minimum percentage of theaters showing The Master in 70MM.

At its widest point, The Master was shown in 70MM at 14 theaters, with a few prestige venues still in possession of the equipment, i.e. the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, The Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, and the Village East in New York City. During the run of The Master, dilemmas would ensue whereby a projectionist couldn’t thread the print or a projector’s motor would burn out. In such moments, the Weinstein Co. would send technicians out.

A few times, Lomis even rolled-up his sleeves and solved some 70MM problems in projection booths around L.A. ‘We even had Paul Thomas Anderson threading in one booth,’ recalls Lomis about one instance.”

This is quite an experiment; thanks to Lynn Rogers for the tip on this!

TCM Partners With Women in Film

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

As Lisa de Moraes reports in Deadline Hollywood, “Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Women In Film Los Angeles have joined forces for a multi-year partnership dedicated to raising awareness about the lack of gender equality in the industry, while celebrating the achievements of women who have succeeded in film.

TCM has earmarked the month of October for the next three consecutive years for the programming initiative. The network will present films from female industry icons, and provide context on the historical and current states of the representation of women in the film industry.

The month-long programming initiative hopes to take a deeper look at gender inequality in the film industry, and will tackle pro-social elements (research, resources, tools, etc) to assist women filmmakers in furthering their careers. Women in Film Los Angeles will partner with TCM throughout this programming initiative to offer research and resources.

‘The issue of gender inequality in the film industry is both timely and immensely important to shine a light on,’ said TCM’s general manager Jennifer Dorian. ‘We’re thrilled to partner with such a well-respected organization as Women in Film in order to address and promote the empowerment of women in our industry.’

‘For years, I have dreamed of having a network reach out to our organization with a true interest in our advocacy and the ability to collaborate on programming that will reach audiences everywhere,’ WIF President, Cathy Schulman said in today’s announcement.

In April, WIF and Sundance released results of a study they conducted that concluded men outnumbered women 23-to-1 as directors of the 1,300 top-grossing films since 2002, and found gender stereotyping to be one of the main reasons for the disparity.”

An excellent idea – long overdue.

The Universal Monsters Reboot Won’t Work

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

It won’t work because there’s the wrong talent in the room – and the wrong approach to the problem.

Lord knows, there are many more important things in the world today to discuss, and for the most part, I try to keep this blog positive, but the news – which has been trickling out for months – that Universal is trying to reboot the classic monsters that gave the studio its initial identity would be welcome – were it not for the fact that they’re going about it in precisely the wrong way. Looking at the Marvel universe films, which are enormously successful, Universal is trying to do the same thing with The Mummy, The Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Wolfman – and it simply isn’t working.

Look at the recent reboot of Dracula Untold – a complete commercial and critical failure, which came across as yet another knockoff of the 300 franchise, and not a horror film at all.  The recent revamp of The Wolfman – the same thing, complete with a switch of directors halfway through, and a new, grafted on ending that spoiled the entire premise of the film. As one observed suggested, “just re-issue the originals, save a lot of money, and give us some classy entertainment!” But of course, that’s not going to happen.

What should happen – but won’t – is that Universal finds some Gothic filmmakers who have a real connection to the genre and then turns them loose to create authentic, reimagined-from-the-ground-up reboots of the entire series, and scrap everything they’ve done in the last decade or so, starting with The Mummy, Van Helsing, and the other misguided attempts to bring new life to Mary Shelley’s, Curt Siodmak’s  and Bram Stoker’s creations, among other possible restarts – and go back to the source material. Not the films; the texts that inspired them.

In the late 1950s, Britain’s Hammer studios successfully revitalized the classic gallery of Universal monsters as essentially British, Gothic creations with Terence Fisher’s Curse of Frankenstein (1957), which took the storyline seriously, acted as if none of the Universal films had ever been made, and offered an entirely new vision of the entire Frankenstein mythos.

Universal fought Hammer tooth and nail during production of the film, accidentally doing Hammer a big favor by prohibiting them from using any aspects of the Universal version of the monster – so the look, the storyline, the pacing, the use of violence, everything about the film – had to be completely original, going back to the textual source material from 1818.

As Hammer correctly noted during production, the Frankenstein saga was firmly in the Public Domain, and so if someone could create a fresh version of the classic tale, then there was nothing to stop them legally. Hammer finished up the film, and offered it to Universal, but the studio, still incensed that someone else was “poaching” on what they considered was their domain, passed on distributing the project.

Hammer took it to Warner Bros., where Jack Warner pounced on it. The film opened worldwide, made a fortune, immediately rejuvenated the genre, elevated Peter Cushing (as Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (as the Monster) to overnight stars, and finally Universal saw the writing on the wall. Universal had run out of ideas – or a vision of what they should be doing – and it took outsiders who could use nothing from the earlier films to make the genre new again.

Striking a deal with Hammer, Universal offered Hammer a shot at the entire gallery of their cinematic malefactors, and Fisher’s Horror of Dracula (1958) followed in rapid succession, and was an even bigger hit. Hammer then cycled through all the Universal monsters for an extremely profitable decade or so, until the genre finally collapsed under the weight of diminishing returns, just as Universal’s original series eventually wound up as a parody of itself with the “monster rally” films of the mid 1940s, and finally Charles Barton’s parody Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein (1948).

None of this is news to any film historian – everyone who knows the history of horror films know this. But it seems that Universal simply doesn’t get the message. The monster franchise is not a Marvel “universe” series – it needs a completely fresh approach, which none of the people currently involved can accomplish – they’re too caught up in the Comic-Con world to recapture the vitality and energy of the original films. What’s happening now is a complete mistake. I wish it were otherwise, but I absolutely guarantee you, this “Monster universe” strategy will not work.

Only an authentic “start from scratch” approach will revitalize this franchise.

Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s Dune

Friday, February 14th, 2014

From Nancy Tartaglione of Deadline Hollywood comes this trailer for a film about a film that never got made.

Alejandro Jodorowsky famously made the metaphorical “western” El Topo, but his output has been minimal over the years, perhaps because he tries to mount such elaborate projects. Here’s the trailer for a film about his version of the classic science-fiction novel Dune, which never got made for various reasons. As Tartaglione reports, “Frank Pavich’s Jodorowsky’s Dune debuted in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar in Cannes last year before being acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and playing the fall fest circuit. A trailer has dropped for the documentary about veteran Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s ill-fated attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel, Dune, to the screen.

In the mid-1970s, Jodorowsky (El Topo, Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre) came up with an ambitious take on the tome and spent two years in pre-production. The film was to star Jodorowsky’s own 12-year-old son Brontis alongside Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, set to a musical score by Pink Floyd with art design by H.R. Giger and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud. But the project ultimately went unrealized and the rights lapsed.

David Lynch made his own version of Dune in 1984 with Kyle MacLachlan, Sting and Sean Young. Here’s a look at what might have been.” As you can see from the trailer, a lot of work went into the design of the film, and the casting was certainly ambitious. I’m sorry that this never saw the light of day, as I think it would have been a fascinating project — perhaps better than Lynch’s version, but we’ll never know.

Click here, or on the image above, to read Deadline’s coverage, and see the trailer for the film.

For more free articles and videos, visit my website at wheelerwinstondixon.com

Lost Peter Sellers Films Found — Amazing!!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Nancy Tartaglione reports in Deadline Hollywood that two lost Peter Sellers films have been found.

As Tartaglione writes, “in a discovery that would make Inspector Clouseau proud, two long-lost short films starring Peter Sellers have been found in Southend, England and will be screened next year at a local film festival. Those will be the first public showings of Dearth Of A Salesman and Insomnia Is Good For You in over 50 years. The 30-minute movies were made in 1957, seven years before Sellers would make an Oscar-nominated turn in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

It’s thought that Sellers used the recovered pictures as show reels while segueing from radio to movies. According to the BBC, they were originally found in a London dumpster in 1996 by a building manager who took them home and stocked them away without realizing what the 21 film cans contained. During a recent clear-out of his house, Robert Farrow rediscovered them and learned of the Sellers movies.

Stephen Podgorney of Southend-based Dimwittie Films tells me he is now researching the films which are being digitally restored. ‘It’s a big task as so little is known.’ However, it is believed that Dearth Of A Salesman features Judith Wyler, the daughter of director William Wyler, and both films were co-written by Oscar-winner Mordecai Richler. The Southend Film Festival will host the screenings on May 1st.”

So you see — an early Christmas present! Thanks, Nancy!!

Hammer Studios Restores Its Classic Films

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Bray Studios, for many years the home of Hammer Films.

Click on the image above to go to Hammer’s official website.

Hammer Films, arguably the most important studio in the history of Gothic horror films, and home to directors Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Val Guest and many others, has begun an ambitious plan to bring their many of the classic films in their archive into the Blu-ray era, working in conjunction with Studiocanal and others. As Nancy Tartaglione-Moore reports, “legendary horror studio Hammer has announced a global restoration project for its library of films. In partnership with Studiocanal, Pinewood and other international players, more than 30 films will be revamped in HD for Blu-ray and other new media supports. Hammer’s original U.S. production partners, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount, are also participating in the project. The first title to be released is Dracula Prince Of Darkness, which will go out in March in the UK. The studio was founded in 1934 and went on to make such titles as The Plague Of The Zombies, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Witches and The Mummy. Since 2008, it’s been a division of the Exclusive Media Group. After ceasing production in the 1980s, Hammer returned to features in 2010 with Matt Reeves’ adaptation of Swedish hit Let Me In. This year, it will release Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman In Black.”

Excellent news! You can read the entire story by clicking right here.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011)

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Ryan Gosling at the wheel in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011)

Here’s a typically elegant and perceptive essay by J. Hoberman from The Village Voice on Drive (2011), the new action film by director Nicolas Winding Refn. As Hoberman usefully points out,

“As stripped-down and propulsive as its robotic title, Drive is the most “American” movie yet by Danish genre director Nicolas Winding Refn. The film, for which Refn was named best director last May in Cannes, is a sleek, tense piece of work that, as a vehicle for Ryan Gosling, has a kind of daredevil control [. . .] Refn is primarily a stylist, and this tale of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a hired wheelman (or is it vice versa?) and gets played for a patsy is a lovingly assembled, streamlined pastiche of ’80s movies and TV. The most obvious reference is Walter Hill’s schematic action flick The Driver: This 1978 paean to professional cool in the person of Ryan O’Neal more or less provides Drive’s title, premise, uninflected antihero, and minimalist existentialism, as well as its two-dimensional attitude.”

I’ve always thought that The Driver was one of Hill’s best films, and this is an inspired riff on the original, by a thoughtful and intelligent genre artist. Interestingly, the project was originally pitched to Gosling, and it was Gosling who chose Refn as the director for Drive; a first for Gosling’s career, and a very smart decision. Those who think that Cannes only honors more traditional “art” films should think again; this is a festival that continually surprises informed observers, in the most pleasingly possible fashion. Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Christina Hendricks are also in the film, so all in all, this is a very strong ensemble cast for any project. And you know what’s really refreshing? As Mike Fleming reports in Deadline Hollywood, the film was made for roughly $30 million, and in today’s economy, that’s bare bones filmmaking.

Read Hoberman’s entire essay here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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National media outlets featured and cited Wheeler Winston Dixon on a number of film, media and other topics in the past month - http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/

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