WALL-E – Film Review

WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is a friendly and extremely efficient robot that spends his days trying to tidy up a major mess left by the human inhabitants of earth. It seems that the Big-N-Large conglomerate, which owned everything and is the epitome of commercialism, made some mistakes along the way. Earth can no longer support life and so the company built space ships that would allow earthlings to cruise the universe until earth could support life once again.

WALL•E is sensitive and collects common items like lighters, light bulbs and kitchen utensils. He has set up an elaborate sorting system in a trailer and at the end of each day, puts them carefully in their place. WALL•E is a robot so you wouldn’t expect him to have emotions. But he is lonely and this is made even more pronounced as he watches the movie Hello Dolly on VHS day after day.

One day a robot piloted space ship lands in WALL•E’s backyard. Out comes a sleek and sexy model that we soon find out is named EVE. She is there on a routine mission to look for any signs of life on earth. WALL•E falls for EVE and tries to romance her with dancing and holding her hand. He shows her a living plant that he found during one of his clean-ups and she immediately whisks it back to the Big-N-Large command space ship, the Axiom.

WALL•E does not want to lose EVE so he clamps onto the ship and rides it to the Axiom, which is… well, it’s a nightmare. For over 700 years the Axiom has been traversing the universe, run by robots. It’s full of humans that have been brainwashed into the Big-N-Large cult and are unable to think or feel. Finally the humans regain their mettle and take back the ship, and eventually their pride and place as homo sapiens.

Pixar and writer/director Andrew Stanton have created another stunning showcase for their technology storytelling. It’s rich in detail and packed with the clever twists and humor we have come to expect from their productions. Having man and machine switch emotional roles was a brilliant device. The film reaches for ambitious themes of relationship, individualism and the importance of a working society, but falls short. The challenge of trying to convey these ideas without dialogue was perhaps too tall an order, as the film’s heavy lifting is left solely to visuals and sound.

There are enough things going on in WALL•E to keep your eyes and ears interested, but your mind will find a way to allow your day to day life leak in. At the very least films should be escapism, at their best they push us to think and re-evaluate our lives, our politics, even our future. Unfortunately WALL•E doesn’t do either. There was much I enjoyed, but Pixar has set the bar very high, and WALL•E didn’t make it.

Visit the official WALL•E site, which is way cool.

Photo Credits: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar

Under the Same Moon – Film Review

Patricia Riggen’s Under the Same Moon is a sweet and surprisingly powerful film that disguises a complex study of Mexican immigration within a simple story of a mother’s love for her son.

Rosario (Kate Del Castillo) is a young mother without a husband. She crossed the boarder four years earlier and lives in Los Angeles in search of a better life. Rosario left behind her now nine year old son Carlos, also know as Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), who is being cared for by his sick grandmother. There is a weekly phone call from Rosario to Carlos Sundays at 10 am. This is their opportunity to converse about the mundane as well as more serious issues in their lives. Carlos has never met his father and never sees his mother. He is bright and sensitive and begins to get the feeling that his mother may not return or send for him. Their conversations are heart-wrenching for Rosario, as her son keeps asking her when they will see each other again. He makes her describe in great detail the location of the phone booth and what surrounds it. This visual device proves crucial to the story.

Carlos works for a seasoned businesswoman, Dona Carmen (Carmen Salinas) who arranges border crossings. This is how he meets a young brother (Jesse Garcia) and sister (America Ferrera) who are legal U.S. citizens, and want to earn money for eduction by smuggling babies to the U.S. Their offer is rejected by Ms. Carmen on the grounds of their inexperience. Carlos saves his money from the job as well as money his mother sends each month

The film keeps a brisk pace cross-cutting between Rosario in LA and Carlos in Mexico. But most of the plot turns are predictable. There are no surprises on how the characters act or change as the story advances. All pretty stock. As expected, the grandmother dies and Carlos decides to cross the border to find his mother in LA. He connects with the brother and sister and hires them to smuggle him into the U.S. His goal is to get there before the usual Sunday call, so she won’t worry that he doesn’t answer the phone.

Along the way he crosses paths with the usual suspects. A junkie tries to sell him for a fix, but many characters turn out to be good Samaritans for Carlos as well as Rosario. Eventually Carlos and Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), a gruff illegal, are thrown together. They develop a love-hate relationship that carries through the rest of the picture. During a short stay in Tucson, Enrique helps Carlos meet his father. The scene with his father, Oscar, is ineffective and seems to have been only inserted to get Enrique and Carlos onto a bus to LA. It’s probably the only wrong turn in the film.

Pics strength can be found in the performances. The players that have not yet made it have edges they keep razor sharp. The characters that are established in the U.S. are calm and steady. It’s this contrast that gives the film energy and hope. Kate Del Castillo is excellent in her portrayal of the mother who is determined to succeed, but is overcome by the emotional longing for her son. So much so she almost makes a huge error. Adrian Alonso is bright and tough, a natural on screen, and the catalyst for everyone around him. Supporting cast performances on both sides of the border are solid.

There is effective use of native music as well as talk radio that provides the undercurrent of the realities of Mexicans trying to understand where they are positioned in the American caste system. It’s a difficult and trying topic. Ms. Riggen’s camera is fluid and she passes it across a collection of visual clues that ties everything together in the end. Effective editing can also be credited for breathing life into a solid and inspirational script by Ligiah Villalobos.

Director Patricia Riggen and Adrian Alonso on the set

Under the Same Moon (subtitled) is a wonderful break from the Hollywood fare we are bombarded with week after week. It tackles a real issue and is successful in humanizing the suffering connected with it. Recommended. Visit the official web site here.

Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures


Elizabeth: The Golden Age – Film Review

Elizabeth the 1st has been endlessly studied from all angles. Historians, novelists, biographers and of course filmmakers. Arguably, no one knows as much about the psyche and behavior of Elizabeth than the academy award-winning actress Cate Blanchett. Playing her first in the 1998 film Elizabeth, and continuing her interpretation in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Photo Credit: Universal Studios

Pic opens in 1585. King Philip of Spain is keen on expanding his already expansive empire. He has set his sights on England, and of course the Queen. Ms. Blanchett fully and completely embodies Elizabeth in her performance. Yes the steely, tough person is present. But Ms. Blanchett carefully and with exquisite timing shows us the vulnerable side of the Queen. She has fears. She is not always confident in her decisions. Like all leaders of the time, she consults her God and mortal wise men. Elizabeth takes in comments and advice from all sides, then makes her decisions. It makes for fascinating character viewing. She is in constant motion throughout the film. Her mind is always turning, and her body keeps pace. This is a woman that thinks best on her feet.

The costumes are opulent, but the lavishness of the film’s look stops there. Elizabeth’s movements are placed in remarkably basic and drab settings. The rooms are enormous, but gray, as the filmmakers save the color for her gowns and hair. It’s a clever choice, and has the effect of giving more weight to the characters.

Period films are always challenged with trying to distill all the nuances of historical fact into a brief two hours. Director Shekhar Kapur does an excellent job of telling the broader story through a strong visual language that animates the script written by William Nicholson and Michael Hirst. Students with a sharp eye will find inconsistencies with fact, but this is not a documentary. It’s a dramatic think piece of high order.

Photo Credit:
Universal Studios

Solid acting performances by Geoffrey Rush (Sir Francis Walsingham), Clive Owen (Sir Walter Raleigh) and Jordi Mollà (King Philip) as the key men in the story. On the female side, beyond Ms. Blanchett, are Samantha Morton (Mary Stuart) who is positively diabolical as the power hungry Queen of Scotland looking for an upgrade. She really knows how to dress for one’s own beheading. Abbie Cornish (Elizabeth Throckmorton) is the Queen’s favorite assistant. Ms. Cornish evolves her character from naive to confident, playing a pivotal and unexpected role in the Queen’s self-awareness.

Mr. Owen doesn’t quite swashbuckle, but is mysterious, keeping his allegiances and passions close to the vest as he plays on the emotions of both Elizabeths (Queen, and the lady in waiting). Mr. Mollà brings to life a disturbed, religious fanatic King Philip of Spain, complete with a childlike bounce to his gait.

Photo Credit:
Universal Studios

I must admit, I wasn’t that interested in seeing another film on Elizabeth, but from the opening shots, I was completely drawn into the story, thanks to the strong acting and excellent casting, along with outstanding art direction. Remi Adefarasin’s lens is active and fluid when aimed at the Queen. He chooses more of a trapezoid field of view when photographing King Philip. Crisp editing gives the film energy and momentum. Visit the official web site for Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Recommended. Also worth going back for a look at Ms. Blanchett’s performance in the Elizabeth from 1998. It opens with a burning-at-the-stake scene that’s the best ever put on film.

Academy Splits Oscar into 13 Pieces

Photo Credit: The New York Times

The 80th annual Academy Awards ceremony aired last night, hosted for the second time by Jon Stewart. It was more informal and well down on the energy scale than in years past. Mr. Stewart did a great job at bringing his signature lines and delivery to the telecast, while being mindful to not step over the line. But the shows’ planners may have over-prepared for the potential of having to go on without the writers, then decided to keep it all in the show. There were many more prerecorded clips of past Oscar moments than usual. Oddly enough, I liked seeing most of them having always felt the writing, especially for the presenters, was trite and and not in keeping with the sophistication of the night. But they either went by too quickly, or were repeated too often. I think I saw Cher accepting her Moonstruck award three times! Note to the Academy. Here’s a new best practice. Don’t let the writers write so much. Less writing = shorter telecast.

Joel and Ethan Coen Photo Credit: The New York Times

No film dominated, as the awards were handed out quite evenly across the board. Looking back at the year, that felt right to me. My personal favorite No Country for old Men, won the three big ones; picture (Scott Rudin producer), director and adapted screenplay (both by Joel and Ethan Coen). The film had only one actor nomination and won it. Javier Bardem’s supporting role in his portrayal of Anton Chigurh. Not a character you ever want to encounter, friend-O.

Rounding out the other acting awards were, Daniel-Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood (no brainer), Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (somewhat of a surprise) and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (the long shot comes in).

The Bourne Ultimatum won three technical awards (editing, sound editing and sound mixing), while There Will be Blood snagged the cinematography statue (Robert Elswit). Juno took the Oscar for original screenplay (Diablo Cody). Atonement walked away with only one, original score. Best song went to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for Falling Slowly from the film Once (the Menken/Schwartz days may be over).

A good, not great year for film. The same can be said for the awards show.


My Oscar Picks on My 50th Post

This my 50th post! I started this blog last October as an experiment in social computing. Since I work in the Internet space, I thought it would be good research as we look at launching community for our brand. I’m really into it now.

It’s very early Sunday morning February 24th, 2008, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are scant hours away from bestowing their highest honors on the very best in filmmaking. While I’m writing this post there are only two men who know for sure who will take home the Oscar. They are Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosashey, partners at PricewaterhouseCoopers.


Mr. Oltmanns, Mr. Rosashey and approximately 12 other PWC employees steal off to an undisclosed location to count the 6,000 ballots by hand. The process is designed so no one except Brad and Rick know the final tally and they personally stuff the presenter envelopes. Four sets of winner cards are preprinted for all the nominees, and the leftovers are discarded. Do they still handcuff the briefcase to their wrists?


Here are my picks (guesses) in the major categories:

  • Actor Daniel-Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood
  • Actress Julie Christie in Away from Her
  • Supporting Actor Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men
  • Supporting Actress Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
  • Animated Feature Ratatouille
  • Cinematography There Will Be Blood
  • Film Editing Roderick Jaynes for No Country for Old Men
  • Original Screenplay Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton
  • Adapted Screenplay Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men
  • Music Score James Newton Howard for Michael Clayton
  • Direction Joel and Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men
  • Picture No Country for Old Men

As you can see, I’m a keen on No Country for Old Men. I believe it to be the best film of the year by a long shot for so many reasons. You can follow the links to read my reviews.

No I’m not in an office pool. I won’t be hosting or attending an Oscar party. I will do what I always do. Have a savory dinner at home, pour a nice red and watch the ceremony. I never complain about it running past three hours, or grumble because one of my favorites didn’t win (by the way that only recently stopped since Marty finally won last year). I will enjoy, and marvel, and wish I was part of this magical art form called film.


Michael Clayton – Film Review

What struck me most about Michael Clayton is how all the players on this project came together as an ensemble, and took this film to a much higher level than might otherwise have been achieved. This is an extreme example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. When you look at the foundational pieces that make up this film, they are nothing special for the slick productions we have come to expect from Hollywood. By foundational I mean the story/script, music, art direction, costume and make-up. Certainly there are brilliant moments in the dialog, and score, But the entire film has been elevated several levels by the amazing performances of the actors. Each and every thespian turns in a performance perfectly pitched for the story. Credit of course goes to the casting, but it continues through to the director (Tony Gilroy) strategically placing his pieces on the chess board in a stunning gambit. Those accomplishments have been acknowledged with 3 Academy Award nominations for acting, as well as 4 others; direction, music, original screenplay and picture.


However, the real stand out, the thing that pulls it all together in my mind, is the editing (by John Gilroy, the director’s brother). It’s his work that builds importance and power through the opening pre-minutes, then seamlessly splices together a patchwork story into the final film that earned a Best Picture nomination. In an unfortunate oversight, his name is missing from this year’s Oscar nomination list; I can see how it might have been overlooked when you look at the competition. But I posit, without Mr. Gilroy’s skill, Michael Clayton would not be on the Best Picture roster.

The story has been told many times before. Big conglomerate prioritizes greed above ethics and humans suffer. Hires a powerful law firm to defend it against a class action law suit, and an insider finally gets fed up and decides to expose the company for what it really is. Good triumphs and confidence is somewhat restored in the system.

That insider is Artur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) the law firm’s star litigator who has been willing to stay with this case for the firm and their client, U North. Arthur has a chemical imbalance, stops taking his meds and creates a scene by removing his clothes in a deposition hearing, then chases the witness into the parking lot wearing nothing more than his socks. Mr. Wilkinson’s rants remind me of Howard Beale (Peter Finch) from Network. Middle aged, reliable, brilliant, willing to do anything he’s asked, and slightly left of center. Edens teeters back and forth between mad professor, and adolescent boy looking for a way to beat the bullies and get back a small part his lost youth.


U North has just promoted Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) to head legal counsel, and sends her to Minnesota to straighten out the Edens predicament. Meanwhile the law firm dispatches their “fixer” Michael Clayton (George Clooney) to do the same. Clayton has been with the firm for years and his talent is swooping in when there is a mess, or about to be one, and making things seem normal again. Clayton’s life is in turmoil, as usual the shoemaker has no shoes. His marriage has dissolved, he sees his son regularly, but doesn’t really connect, he has a gambling problem, and a recent business venture with his brother has gone bust, leaving him with a large financial problem. Clayton is a steeping pot waiting for someone or something to uncork the kettle. Mr. Clooney plays it Clooney cool, but allows us a glimpse into the tortured side of his character as he struggles to piece together family and career. It’s touching and very real.

Crowder is calculating, neurotic, and will do anything to further her position. Ms. Swinton captures it beautifully, taking us inside her character’s head. We see her rehearsing her speech while carefully laying out the big meeting’s wardrobe to show us how comfortable she is inside the friendly confines of the law office. These rituals have served her well. But when the fight moves to the street she is in way over her head.

Director Tony Gilroy and George Clooney

Pic technical aspects are first rate. Strong direction and photography are right on for the complex thriller genre. It helps us forget sometimes that the story is a retread. But the script has numerous holes, and is in such a hurry to get to the end that it misses some rich opportunities along the way. Still, I would recommend this for its acting quality, doesn’t get much better, and the way the filmmakers assemble the elements into a fast-moving entertaining couple of hours.


Atonement – Film Review

Atonement is a classic British period film based on the critically acclaimed novel by the Booker Prize winning author Ian McEwain, and adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton. Set just as WWII is about to begin for Britain, the story pivots around two would-be lovers, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), a well educated son of the families’ housekeeper, and Cicelia Tallis (Keira Knightley) who lives in the expansive mansion. They are kept apart by the vivid imagination of Cicelia’s 13-year-old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan). Briony, who is quite the writer for her age, has a crush on Robbie, but knows that her older sister holds sway over him. Robbie has not yet won over Cicelia, and matters have become worse as he inadvertently breaks a family heirloom.

As an attempt at resolution, Robbie writes an apology note. Several drafts are typed out, some of them quite provocative. He settles on a short, polite version, and entrusts Briony to deliver it, just ahead of a family dinner that includes him as a guest. After he gives the letter to Briony, it dawns on him that the wrong version was placed into the envelope. Briony reads it of course, and is confused by the content. She delivers it to Cicelia without the envelope and the evening quickly goes out of control.

Photo Credit: Working Title Films

In town for the dinner is Leon Tallis (Patrick Kennedy) the brother, along with his friend Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch), a successful chocolate magnet. The unusual house guest list is rounded out by the presence of three children, twin boys and a sister, Lola, a Lolita-type young girl. They are staying on while their parents work out marital problems (go figure). The dinner is interrupted when the miserable twin boys go missing, kicking off a massive search party at night. While covering her part of the estate, Briony comes across a man having his way with Lola in the weeds. Based upon all she has observed, and read, Briony is sure the violator was Robbie. The police are called, Briony’s statement is given and Robbie is hauled away.

Photo Credit: Working Title Films

From there the film moves forwards and backwards through a complex tapestry of time and space. Dreamlike and at times almost surreal, director Joe Wright keeps the viewers off balance, all the while maintaining complete cinematic control. You question the structure, the points of view, and the motivation of nearly everyone. Ultimately the tragic truth is revealed in the closing scenes by a now aged and dying Briony (Vanessa Redgrave).

The first and third acts are presented in a very straightforward style. The combat scenes through France with Robbie, who has traded his remaining jail sentence for an army uniform, and two other soldiers don’t look like your typical war movie. We later learn why. The Dunkirk beach scene, a crucial turning point in the war for the UK, is shot as if through gauze and includes an incredibly long tracking shot that captures the madness and mayhem of ordinary humans reacting to war.

Saorise Ronan, who is nominated as supporting actress for her role as the 13-year old Briony Tallis, is brilliant. The film opens in her room with her at the typewriter completing her first play. Her walk, stares, and voice are as if they have emanated from the the blunt strokes of her own typewriter. Her character is the tent pole of the story. The more she comes to grips with what she has done, the more she softens her voice and begins to float across the screen rather than march.

Photo Credit: Working Title Films

Strong performances all around, wonderfully constructed script, solid art direction and a score by Dario Marianelli that found ingenious ways to blend music with the sound of typewriter keys striking a platen. Would recommend Atonement to those looking for a serious, but not necessarily inspiring film. Visit the official site here.

Oscars Go Bleak – Love It

The best picture category nominations are as follows. No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood (eight each). Michael Clayton, Atonement (each with seven), and Juno (four). This list of serious and dark films is a reflection of what we have been living this past year. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan droning on, the sub-prime housing bust shaking the economy (no lessons learned there), a critical presidential election now in full swing, and global warming pushing uncomfortably into our protected cocoon; it’s no wonder we’re feeling a little down. The entertainment business can add one more to that list, the Writers Guild of America strike.


But the news isn’t all bad. Depends on your perspective. This slate of pictures is top shelf. Great acting, strong writing, meaningful stories, even an Independent in the bunch. Drama has made a comeback and pushed special effects to the side. Hooray! As a film enthusiast there’s lots to chew on here, and I continue to maintain that the darker side is so much more interesting.

The big question is will the Writer’s strike be settled in time? If not, will they work out a way for the Writers to actually write the show while on strike? The lead in banter given the presenters is trite enough when written by actual writers. Can you imagine what we might have to endure if amateurs are brought in? But we’ve got Jon Stewart as host, so it will be entertaining.Go here to get a printer friendly version of all the nominations. Visit the official Oscar site.

There Will Be Blood – Film Review

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest offering, There Will Be Blood, is a departure from his large ensemble works Boogie Nights and Magnolia. This muscular, tragic film was penned for the screen by Mr. Anderson, based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil.

Pic opens at the very end of the 1800’s when America was moving into the industrial age. Oil was the new gold and Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) saw an enormous opportunity. Mr. Day-Lewis is the face and voice of the entire film. One of our most talented actors working today, he delivers a tour de force performance. As Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, his spine was stiff and straight, towering over everyone in Paradise Square. Here his back is bent from years of hard labor in the wells, but he still seems to be the tallest. Like Bill the Butcher, it becomes obvious Daniel Plainview is an unstable and dangerous man. He is utterly and completely devoted to gaining enough wealth from oil to allow him to get away from everyone, forever. He does not speak of the past, invests in people only when it serves his agenda and carries a grudge the likes of which you’ve never seen. In a contemplative monologue he unleashes a wicked stream of consciousness, “I hate most people. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want no one else to succeed.” You get the gist.

Photo Credit: Paramount Vantage

The first 15 minutes of the film go by without any spoken dialog, which helps us focus on the work and considerable skill needed to successfully strike oil. Already well established, “I’m an oil man and you will agree,” Plainview meets a young man who tells him Standard Oil is buying up tracts of land in a small town in California. With considerable drilling experience under his belt, Plainview visits the area and talks the town folk into leasing him the land to prospect for oil. His careful and deliberate choice of words is at the level of a con artist taking a mark. One family in particular, The Sunday’s, are first to sign. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is the son and a man of God. He has a talent for giving revival-type sermons and expects Plainview to help finance his new church. He considers himself a worthy opponent to Daniel. Big mistake.

Planview uses his 10 year old son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) to help lend credibility to his “family business” angle, and quickly signs all but one hold out. Early on in the project H.W. is severely injured in an accident and Daniel sends him to San Francisco for specialized help.

Out of nowhere, a man claiming to be his brother Henry appears, to tell him their father is dead. He shares a note from their sister to prove his lineage. Daniel takes Henry under his roof, and to a business meeting with the Standard Oil executives who offer him $1 million for his wells. Daniel refuses, threatens the execs, and instead, cuts a deal with Union Oil to build a pipeline to carry his black crude straight to the Pacific Ocean.

The story takes a dark turn as a murder is committed, and Daniel finds himself trapped by the actions of the lone land holdout. Plainview must consent to be saved by Eli in exchange for the land lease, something he finds very difficult to do in a scene that is excruciating to watch. H.W. returns to his father and strikes up a relationship with Mary Sunday, the youngest daughter, that leads to marriage.

Liquids are the catalyst and cause of greed and desire for power. Everyone has their liquid of choice. Daniel’s is of course oil. He examines it as if it were an endangered species, smelling, tasting, burning it. He rubs it in Eli’s face in a fit of rage. Eli has his baptism water and takes his revenge on Daniel during the fake redemption sequence.

The closing scene is a jaw-dropper. Daniel has made a fortune and built a mansion for himself including a bowling alley. He uses the main hall for a firing range. In the end he has it out with his son H.W. as well as Eli Sunday, who visits him to get his once promised donation.

Anderson and Day-Lewis – Photo Credit: The New York Times

Film is masterful in technique. You are so completely engrossed in the lives of the people and the story that the 2 hour 30 minute plus running time goes by without a squirm. Shot predominately outside in a beautiful but barren landscape, Mr. Anderson authentically captures the sights and sounds of early 20th century America. But it’s the dialog that propels the drama. Everyone is polite in a matter-of-fact manner, trying hard to transform the wild west into civilization. Jonny Greenwood’s score is sometimes loud, frequently haunting and more often than not seems out of place for the early 1900’s. But it’s right at home in Plainview’s world.

Highly recommended for the serious film goers who appreciate this craft being practiced at the highest levels.


Hollywood Movies Rest In Peace, Long Live Film

Theatrical box office ticket sales for 2007 were slightly up (4%) over the previous year, but attendance was not. Hollywood is still addicted to the franchise sequel formula, which gets riskier with each year and will eventually wear thin. The box office winner was Spider-Man 3, followed by Shrek the Third, both of which produced healthy ticket sales even as a third installment in a series. Rounding out the top ten were, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend, 300, Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie. Clearly Americans love fantasy/science fiction stories, with animated feature length movies having earned their place along side live action pictures some time ago. With so many tickets being sold on sequels, audiences seem to prefer familiar characters.


Source: Media by Numbers Chart: The New York Times

But the high water mark for ticket sales in a single year was back in 2002. Why has Hollywood been unable to grow their market share? Certainly we know there is competition for leisure time, particularly among the young. A significant amount of time is being soaked up by online usage. Each year more and more resource is being poured into an ever-shrinking number of pictures. The stakes get higher and higher for fewer and fewer films. Marketing budgets are huge now and are boosted even further by support from campaigns launched by secondary products, such as books, toys and video games. The studios are also pouring millions into stand alone Internet sites to promote film releases. The viral components of these interactive sites are beginning to crack open a new marketing avenue, which should help.

Hollywood shoulders most of the blame, but the exhibitors are also at fault, as the overall show going experience has deteriorated over time. When you enter a multiplex (no longer called a theater) you are immediately bombarded by repackaged television promotions and product commercials. Then there is the parade of public service announcements. Pleas for the audience to silence their cell phones and leave the talking to the actors. That’s how far we’ve veered from a respectful theatrical experience. No one takes watching movies seriously. It’s become like television. Acceptable to answer the phone, talk, get up to get snacks, etc. I long for the day when exhibitors publish the actual movie start time, so I can calculate my entrance accordingly. Generally I am fine with trailers, but those have become formulaic as well (will save that for another post). Compare what I just described to the pre-event atmosphere you find while waiting for a dramatic play, or a classical music performance to begin. Miles apart!

But I posit that there is a fundamental flaw in the final product being produced by Hollywood. There is very little pure film DNA found in today’s movies. If Hollywood doesn’t turn it around soon, they will find even fewer butts in their seats over the next few years. Now I’m not all doom here. There are still serious films being financed, shot and released. But the money will dry up for those real cinema films. The current Writer’s Guild strike has yet to be a factor for Hollywood, due to lead times, but if it drags out much longer it will be a big problem. I submit the following observations about film.


Film is an art form that has been perfected and refined by masters of cinema past and present. Individuals that were/are students of a revered craft, and contributors to its ongoing aesthetic.


Compared to the recycled content we see today, which I refer to as strictly a movie.


There is still time to make a change. The question is, does Hollywood have the courage, business creativity, and ability to identify the talent necessary to pull it off? I hope so. In the meantime, I am hopelessly passionate about film and will continue to buy tickets while watching for signs of change. One thing is for sure. When I do see great work, I appreciate it so much more. Then there is always my home film collection available to me whenever I want. That’s what really keeps me going.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets – Film Review

I know this is not one of those serious, adult dramas, but the National Treasure films are a kind of guilty pleasure; a welcome interlude from the more emotional, sophisticated pictures. I am fascinated with American history, having explored Washington, D.C. more than a dozen times. When I’m there I find myself completely enthralled in the vibe. Not the political vibe, but the vision and courage exhibited by the Founding Fathers as they launched this nation.

In National Treasure: Book of Secrets, sequel to National Treasure, we have the familiar puzzle solvers, Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage), his father Patrick (Jon Voight), the computer nerd Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and of course the easy-on-the-eyes Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). They are joined by a new character, Ben’s mother, Emily Appleton played with spunk by Helen Mirren.This time it’s personal as they are out to clear the name of great grandfather Thomas Gates, whose loyalty to his country has been besmirched by Jeb Wilkinson (Ed Harris). Jeb contends that great grandfather Thomas was in fact the master mind behind President Lincoln’s assassination, and has an entry from John Wilkes Booth’s diary to prove it.


The hunt for clues begins and Ben and Patrick are at their usual brilliance. But along the way they are stumped by a new set of glyphs discovered within the Twin Resolute Desks, one belonging to the Queen of England and the other residing in the Oval Office. Ben gets into Buckingham Palace and steals one of the glyphs and then leverages Abigail’s charms to get access to the Oval Office so he can search for its mate in the President’s desk (which is missing). Enter mother/ex-wife Emily. She is able to read the now dead glyph language and sets them on the correct course to clear the family name, and uncover one of the seven lost cities of gold, Cibola. Wouldn’t be a National Treasure picture without the treasure.

Riley adds value beyond his computer hacking skills, informing the gang about the Book of Secrets. A book that has been handed down from president to president, with only the chief executive knowing the content or where it’s kept. Inside that book are critical clues.Ben successfully kidnaps the President and talks him into divulging the location of the book (Library of Congress). One thing you can always count on with these movies is a look inside big government buildings you only see from the outside. Whether actual locations or sets, it’s done very well. But in what is now an overused franchise tool, coincidence after convenient coincidence takes place. Ben is always in the right place at the right time and can immediately identify and piece together the most obscure clue.


In the final scenes, they battle the evil Jeb Wilkinson as they ascend Mt. Rushmore and then follow paths cut in it’s rocks back down into the mountain in search of Cibola.

I don’t think I will be spoiling anything by telling you they were successful, and that the door is wide open for yet another sequel. Even though it’s light entertainment, it is fun to watch. But it could be so much more interesting and stimulating to the mind if things didn’t always so easily fall into place. Visit the official National Treasure movie site here.