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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

Jon Robin Baitz was already a successful playwright when he went to Hollywood to create ABC’s Brother’s and Sisters. The show was a hit for Baitz, but turns out, the city was anything but: “It was a nightmare.  Just the fact that I came from New York and wrote sort of serious-ish plays, before I opened my mouth, there was a kind of trope going around the network already: ‘We can’t have any of the Baitzian angst.'”

After a lot of angst, Baitz got a one-way ticket back to New York where he wrote his new play “Other Desert Cities” (now playing at New York City’s Lincoln Center to great praise). It’s the story of Brooke, a writer who comes home for Christmas and reveals to her family that she’s publishing a tell-all memoir — about them.

But Baitz admitted to Kurt that breaking up with TV was messy:

You can hear more of Kurt’s conversation with Jon Robin Baitz on this weekend’s show.

– Dory Carr-Harris

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Sure, YouTube is great for kitten videos, but one of its most consistent sweet spots is fake movie trailers.  Viral video fans take note — the western epic The Oregon Trail is “coming soon” to a theater near you:

To the delight of millions of American twenty- and thirty-somethings, this trailer parodies the computer game of the same name created by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.  The object of the game?  Getting your virtual 19th-century frontier family successfully settled in the West.  In just two and a half minutes, the trailer (produced by Half Day Today!) touches on the game’s most memorable elements.  Characters get ridiculous names like “Poop Face” or “Mac’n’Cheese”?  Check.  Shooting 1400 pounds of buffalo but only being able to carry 100 pounds back to the wagon?  Check.  And someone coming down with dysentery? Check, of course.  Miraculously, the family in the “movie” makes it to Oregon entirely intact, an ending I could never achieve — somebody was almost certain to die of the measles or getting swept away by a river after inadvisably choosing “caulk the wagon and float.”

The Oregon Trail‘s ubiquity in elementary schools in the 1980s and ’90s has resulted in dozens of nostalgic references to the game in today’s pop culture: t-shirts, comics, music, and you can even buy an Oregon Trail iPhone app.  But this trailer — complete with an arrangement of the theme music from The Oregon Trail II — certainly tops them all.

Which gets me thinking: what are the chances that an awesome educational computer game from our childhoods could actually be converted into a (likely terrible) movie?  Some (I’m looking at you, Number Munchers) might be a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me that the world of floppy disk games is ripe for Hollywood’s picking.  Could we be seeing a film adaptation of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  If  Tron Legacy is any indication, Hollywood knows how to cash in on the pop culture nostalgia of Gen X and Y — so there’s still hope a film adaptation of The Oregon Trail might actually materialize.  But for now, we’ll have to get our elementary school computer time fix by playing the game online (8-bit sound effects included!).

— Becky Sullivan

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Hollywood is no stranger to stories of Wall Street: from references to the Depression in the classic Gold Diggers, to botched commodities trading in 1983’s Trading Places, to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2, due out later this year.  Now it seems investors are returning the favor, looking to Hollywood for a new kind of investment opportunity.

Today the Commodities Futures Trading Commission may approve the first exchange tied to the performance of films.  Other Hollywood-based exchanges are lined up to follow.  If approved, these exchanges would allow investors to speculate on box office returns.  Essentially, a film would be issued as a commodity at a certain price, based on its expected financial performance.  If investors think the movie will do better than that price, they can buy in.  If they think the movie will flop, they can short sell, driving the price down.

Hollywood Stock Exchange - MovieStocks

The financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald already offers an online game called the Hollywood Stock Exchange, in which players can wager fake money on Movie Funds, TV Stocks, and Starbonds (Mickey Rourke is currently trading at $54.08, William Shatner at $46.78).

Cantor’s real Hollywood exchange is set to launch later this month. But not everyone is pleased.  Film studios are lobbying Congress to stop the exchanges.  And business columnist Steven Pearlstein fears that the exchange would be “an obvious invitation to trading with insider information, allowing those who are actually producing a movie to bet on its outcome against outsiders who have never read the script, reviewed the dailies or seen the marketing budget.”  Even a well-made, profitable movie could become a financial liability if it’s not quite profitable enough to meet investors’ expectations.  And those same expectations could go a long way in determining the types of movies that are produced, and how they are distributed.

We’ve already seen what speculation and “inventive” financial practices can do to the economy.  If they spread to movies, the result might not be so entertaining.

– Michael Guerriero

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If you watched the Academy Awards this Sunday it would have been easy to miss the category for Best Animated Short Film.  The presentation for the award was…well…short.

But anyone who saw this year’s nominees would agree that none of them lack for quality.

Logorama

Logorama won the Academy Award for its provocative repackaging of trite Hollywood action fare; the film used only recognizable corporate logos to construct the set, characters, and story.  And Wallace & Gromit delivered their share of time-tested misadventures in A Matter of Loaf and Death.

La Dama y La Muerte

But I was most impressed by a couple of other imports.  Spanish production company Kandor Graphics received a nomination for The Lady and The Reaper.  The film is a commentary on how we die and the ways in which life can be distorted as one is pulled back from the precipice of death.  At the same time, it’s a frenetic cartoon chase, ala Looney Tunes.  Imagine Bugs Bunny examining the medical-industrial complex as he tangles with Elmer Fudd.

Runaway

But for my money, the best entry was one nearly overlooked by the academy: a “commended” Canadian film titled Runaway.  In rough, stylized animation, Runaway delivers a political parable set on an out-of-control train.  The engineer presiding over this ill-fated ride neglects his duties to cavort with a woman from the first-class car.  Soon thereafter, the train accelerates dangerously out of control, inciting a class struggle between the cars in which first-class passengers attempt to buy their safety by bribing, manipulating, and then betraying those in coach.  As the film nears its inescapable conclusion, each new development still delivers a surprise.  We know what’s going to happen, but still groan and laugh as we struggle to keep up.  In nine minutes, that ambiguous combination of ideas manages to surpass anything I’ve seen in a feature film in a long time.

In New York, all of the nominees and select commended films are showing at the IFC Center.

– Michael Guerriero

La Dama y La Muerte

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photo credit: Dan in LA/flickr

photo credit: Dan in LA/flickr

Attending the Oscar ceremony last night, I realized why the pre-show red-carpet rigmarole has become more and more a focus of the television coverage over the last decade or so: that’s the juiciest part of the quasi-official event, a reality-show The Day of the Locust without the apocalyptic ending.

First there’s the arrival by car through a half-mile-long cordon sanitaire enforced by scores of LAPD officers and quasi-military LAPD vehicles, crawling at a few miles per hour past roped-back hundreds of noisy citizens. (The printed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences instructions noted that limousines longer than 39 feet could not be accommodated.)

A few of the citizens were waving vicious you-Hollywood-people-are-damned signs. But most of them were just celebrity-besotted bystanders eager to be in the proximity of the spectacle, and to gawk. (Like me, in other words, but without tickets.) I also spotted an FBI agent among the police, and wondered: why? The slow-mo mob walk up the red carpet was entertaining; I felt as if I’d stepped through the looking glass — or, rather, through the TV screen. No one asked me who I was wearing; I would’ve been obliged to answer, “Armani circa 1993 for the jacket, Men’s Warehouse 2009 for the pants.”

As splendidly and inventively staged as the show inside the theater was, the audience scene there, despite the strictly black-tie costuming, isn’t exactly thrilling. The celebrity ratio is low. A friend, like me a first-time attendee, remarked that it felt to him like “New Jersey prom night.” And by the way? Waltz With Bashir was robbed.

The party thrown afterward by Vanity Fair at an old hotel on Sunset Boulevard, however, was astoundingly glamorous, like a Hollywood party as portrayed in a Hollywood movie. In general I disapprove of name-dropping, but what choice do I have? In a space no larger than my house I walked and stood within a few feet of Amy Adams, Judd Apatow, Jason Bateman, Halle Berry, Danny Boyle, Larry David, Robert Downey Jr., John Hamm, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Debra Messing, Rupert Murdoch, Natalie Portman, Seth Rogen, Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Uma Thurman and, according to my wife, the young male stars of Twilight and The 300.

Having absolutely gorged on glitz for 10 hours, I am now exhausted, and feel as if I should retreat to a monastery for several weeks. Or at least read Henry James and take a nap.

– Kurt Andersen

Header photo credit: sanjoyg/flickr

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