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Feedback question

I was asked, via the Comments utility, what I would do if I were confronted with a situation wherein I had problems with “My Big Fat Independent Movie”‘s marketing campaign. This is a legitimate issue, since MBFIM was produced by Chris Gore, who runs FilmThreat, which hosts my Movie Marketing Madness column.

To respond to this, I believe I would have to be fair to my journalistic ethics and give my true opinion of the movie. My editor at FilmThreat, Eric, has never had a problem with anything I’ve written and I don’t expect he or anyone else would over this. FilmThreat, from the time I’ve spent there, has been a source of open discussion.

In all honesty, I had forgotten about this flick and this isn’t a movie I would likely pick for my MMM column since I am focusing more on the big-studio releases.

I do have this blog as an alternative publishing source, so that would provide me with some recourse to expressing my opinion, but I don’t see this becoming an issue.

Check out this story from Poynter.org for a similar situation/outcome.

Hope this address the issue in a satisfactory way.

Movie Marketing Madness: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

harry_potter_and_the_prisoner_of_azkaban_ver5The Harry Potter juggernaut cannot be denied. There must be something in the books, movies and novelty stickers that appeal to something deep down in a large segment of the population. Still, the box office take for the second movie,Chamber of Secrets, was about $59 million less than 2001’s Sorcerer’s Stone so there has to be some speculation that this will continue following the law of diminishing returns.

Unlike with The Lord of the Rings, there was no continuation of the story in 2003. Have you ever been talking with someone, had a really good conversation going, and then one of you gets up to go to the bathroom? The conversation is never quite as good after that brief interruption. 2003 could prove to the bathroom break for the Harry Potter film franchise. Interesting, since J.K. Rowling seems to be able to take her sweet time with the books with no adverse reaction.

Incidentally, I’d give the screenwriters $10 if they work out some way in the script to make Gary Oldman scream “EVERYBODY!!!” just like he does in “The Professional.” This has to be one of my all time favorite movie moments.

The Teaser Trailer

Hitting all the high points, the teaser trailer does hint at a darker tone to the movie than the first two movies had. Maggie Smith still looks like she just got tired of waiting for the phone to ring with a better part and all the other supporting characters get a half-dozen frames of screen time each. There is a little bit of plot setup where characters talk about Oldman’s Sirius Black, but mostly this is just a public service message saying there’s a new Harry Potter movie coming and the kids are a little taller than last time.

The Trailer

While still playing at being a bit darker than the first two movies, this trailer lets in more rays of sunshine and whimsy. There are shots of at least a few of the major set pieces of the movie, including the “Knight Bus” careening through the streets until shrieking to a sudden stop (I can only assume this was due to the Penguin controlling it from his campaign van). There’s more of the main cast running around and getting themselves alternately into and out of trouble. It is good to see Emma Watson is growing up nicely though.

In a sure sign of corporate synergy at Time Warner (formerly AOL Time Warner), the AOL Keyword for the movie’s destination is shown before and for a longer time than the website address. Subtle, and if you don’t know the tangled web of corporate ownership you won’t notice it.

The Poster

All three major players, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson’s faces are smushed together. Without the Harry Potter logo on there, this exact same layout could be used for a psycho-sexual drama with Sharon Stone, James Woods and Danny Gloverwith a little bit of help from Photoshop. It does match the blue-gray color scheme hinted at in the trailers, which is a nice bit of consistency, and continues to show the darker tone the series may be taking with this movie.

The Website

If there’s one thing you don’t want to try and do on the website, it’s find information on the movie. The layout does everything but actively discourage visitors from finding anything that isn’t imparted with a sense of wonder and fantasy. This leads me to believe kids and young adults are the targeted audience. Not surprising considering the movie.

The usual assortment of trailers, posters, screensavers, wallpaper and buddy icons are split between the obviously labeled “Downloads” and the fancier sounding “Daily Prophet”. You would expect something labeled “Daily” would be updated regularly, but multiple visits yielded exactly the same page.

There are games galore on the site, all of which take a different sequence from one of the movies and make it interactive. They are not very interesting and I really think this section could have been used more effectively for cross-marketing the console-based video games. Why force someone to play a clunky online game when you could give him or her a playable demo of a game available now for only $59.95?

Seemingly a ton of online content is available only to those who “Enroll at Hogwarts” or, put more bluntly, register on the site. I didn’t, so I don’t know exactly what is behind the registration wall but like most sites it probably gives the illusion of exclusivity to those who can successfully type their email address and the state they live in.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the site is one I haven’t seen on very many other movies’ sites: a message board. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about this board, though. Half the messages are so overly gushing and/or use such poor grammar and show such poor typing ability that I’m almost convinced they’re written by marketing wonks for the studio. Just like Richard Grieco, these are adults playing at being kids.

To access any cast or crew information, you have to go in the “Marauder’s Map” and, as the knight told Indiana Jones, “Choose wisely”. Unfold the map, select a destination and you may or may not be taken to an actor’s profile. You may also be taken to a portion of the site available only to those who have registered or somewhere like “The Daily Prophet” where you have already been.

The “Marauder’s Map seems like something proposed in a meeting that everyone agreed sounded really cool but is ultimately useless. Nothing on the “Map” is labeled very well and seems specifically designed to confuse and frustrate someone actually looking for information.

Overall

The campaign is consistent, showing that there may be dark days ahead for Harry and the gang. This is a tough play for Warner Bros. as kids in the audience mean not only repeat business, but also a good number of adults being dragged along who might not otherwise see the movie. Older sci-fi/fantasy fans may be soiling themselves at the grittier side of the Harry Potter universe, but they aren’t necessarily going to plan birthday parties around going to the movie like kids might. The mix of grit and fantasy didn’t seem to blend in the trailer though, playing more like two sides of a split personality and not like one coherent movie.

Consolidation in the record industry

A Major Change In Their Tunes (TechNews.com)

Note – Registration may be required to view the above articles.

Two quotes I want to pull out here, though:

All music companies — large and small — are wrestling with an industry-wide depression. Music (principally CD) sales have dropped more than 30 percent over the past three years. The industry blames the falloff on illegal Internet file-sharing and bootlegged CDs, though others outside the companies said consumers have been alienated by high CD prices and a rash of uninteresting artists. Sony, for instance, lost $81 million in 2003 after reporting $188 million in operating income for 2001.

And then this one:

Five companies — Universal Music Group, EMI Group PLC, BMG, Sony and Warner — sell more than 80 percent of the industry’s music.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Put out better product and the people will buy it. Also, the current business model CDs are sold under is no longer sustainable. If a company wants to sell more CDs, it will have to cut prices as $15 – $20 is no longer (and never really was) a realistic price when the individual songs people really want are available at iTunes for $.99 a pop. It’s a matter of knowing your audience.

Here’s my take: Young fans of Britney Spears, Usher and 50Cent are internet-savvy and are more likely to be hooked into iTunes or one of the other internet-stores. The companies have to realize that. If they want to sell a physical CD from these artists, drop the price. If a ten-song Justin Timberlake album can be purchased through one of the music-download stores for a total of $10, make the CD in the store available for $8. Use this as part of a marketing pitch. It may work. If sales don’t go up after a year, figure out why.

Older fans of Steely Dan, though, are more likely to buy the whole album at a store because that’s what they have been doing their entire lives. It’s alright to price a ten-song SDan CD at $13.99 because that consumer is not going to be as savvy to the alternatives. Besides, they want ALL the songs on the album, not just the single. That’s your selling point.

As long as companies foolishly think they are going to get kids off the computer and into the record store they will lose money. You have to shift your thinking to make money.

Slate on widescreen DVDs

How Widescreen Won – The way we watch movies at home has changed. What happened? By Bryan�Curtis

Bryan Curtis’ article almost brought a tear of joy to my eye.

Movie Marketing Madness: The Day After Tomorrow

day-after-tomorrow-posterSo Roland Emmerich wants to repeat himself. First by destroying the world (or at least some recognizable American monument) and second by casting a decent actor who remains mired on the B-list (in Independence Day this was Bill Pullman, now Dennis Quaid). Excuse me if my interest level barely raises the needle.

It’s not so much that Emmerich, either with or without his sometimes partner Dean Devlin, makes bad movies, it’s just….yeah he makes bad movies. Stargate was passable if I had had enough to drink and was just making fun of Kurt Russell’s haircut, ID4 was horrible and let’s not even discuss Godzilla. There’s no amount of penance they can pull that will right off that sin. I felt the most sorry there for Matthew Broderick, mired in his pre-Producers funk. Oh well.

The Trailer

Like most action movies, this is a very quickly cut trailer, delivering the broad plot outline, a few glimpses of key developments and lots of computer-generated effects. I counted at least three waves of water crashing through downtown New York, two shots of an glacier breaking up and two impassioned declarations by Quaid, who I will always envision being lodged in Martin Shorts nose.

Perhaps the funniest part of the trailer is when Jake Gyllenhaal looks at the “No Smoking” sign come on in the plane he’s riding in. The look on his face is priceless as it’s a mix of “That’s my cue to act scared!” and “Will I have any artistic integrity left when this opens?”. I like to think this is the same kind of look he had when he found out Tobey Maquire was coming back for Spider-Man 2.

The Teaser Poster

The main selling point of the movie seems to be the arrival in New York City of the second ice age. Both teaser posters take this plot point and hammer it home, taking the Statue of Liberty and covering it in ice, albeit from different points of view. This is a big portion of the Emmerich School of Filmmaking, the destruction of a national monument. Even without knowing who was behind this suspected turd, I would have been able to guess it was the ID4 team pretty quickly.

The Poster

What seems to be the final poster moves the camera away from Lady Liberty and points it toward the New York shoreline, again covered in what appears to be a light butter-cream frosting.

Here’s my problem with both poster concepts: They give away the ending. Unless the filmmakers are holding out on us and Dennis Quaid miraculously shifts the earths alignment, causing the ice to melt and weather patterns to return to normal this is how NYC looks at the end. Why am I going to pay $9 to see that if I already know it?

The Website

It’s tutorial time as we move to the movies website. So much of the content here is designed to be educational it’s almost funny. After giving you eleven different languages to choose from, the introduction gives a nice effect by counting down the number of days from 300 to the day of the opening. The first time I visited it the number ended on 007 making me think this was actually the new James Bond site. Presented entirely in a Flash-animated pop-up window, the site has about four main sections.

In “The Production” we get the usual cast and crew biographies where everyone gets to sound like they have personally helped to save the world by participating in this movie. There’s much intoning of how “THIS CAN REALLY HAPPEN!!!!”.

“Multimedia” is simultaneously the most interesting and the most ridiculous sections. The sections “Montages” and “Galleries” almost play like DVD extras, starting slideshows of production sketches compared with finished scenes or stills from the movie. Pretty cool, but still not very informative. There are also trailers, clips and desktop themes here.

The funny part is when you access the “City Freeze”. Pick one of eight major cities and watch poorly animated snow fall until it covers that cities most recognizable landmark. A giant frozen Big Ben is almost worth the price of admission.

I’m not even going to discuss the “Weather Gone Wild” section. It’s all about the science behind the movie and would have been much more enjoyable if they had done one or both of two things: 1) Drop the straight face and/or 2) Present it all like one of those flickering film strips from grade school science class.

“Out of Time” is interesting not so much for the content but because it is basically where people register. You create a profile, hoping that yours is then selected as the profile of the day. I didn’t register so I don’t know what kind of info they ask, but it is a nice tactic to make people revisit the site.

Overall

Lots of special effects! This could really happen! Watch cities get frozen and actors emote amidst the snow! These seem to be the overriding messages. It’s an effective campaign showing it to be Memorial Day escapism. Anyone remotely interested in movies won’t and shouldn’t expect more. If they were going for a younger-skewing I would have expected to see the romance between Gyllenhall and whoever he’s stuck in New York with played more in the trailer. This is a bit surprising since that’s where the repeat business is going to come from.

Random thoughts

Can someone please tell me what the schedule is on the following events?

1. Jessica Simpson’s MTV show gets cancelled.
2. She and her husband decide to have a baby.
3. MTV agrees to create a show following her around while pregnant.

Anyone else see this as tremendously bloody likely?

–Chris

Movie Marketing Madness: Shrek 2

I have little to no interest in the second Shrek movie. Mike Myers has overstayed his welcome (which ended after Austin Powers 2) and I never particularly cared for Cameron Diaz (at least I don’t need her to talk) and her “slightly ditzy but oh-so-playful chick” routine got old before it was new.

Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy. I once remarked to a friend of mine that somewhere around 1992 his manager must have come up to him like Ving Rhames visiting Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. “Somewhere around 1995, you’re going to start doing family-friendly junk that demeans everything you’ve tried to do in your career to that point. You may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”

THE TRAILER

Not bad, but there’s absolutely nothing original in there. There’s more adult-oriented humor (a CGI Joan Rivers on a red carpet) more scenes of classic fairy tale characters (Gingerbread Man and Pinocchio both make appearances) and, as is the case with most sequels, a brief glimpse of the expanded cast, including John Cleese as Cameron Diaz’s father and Antonio Bandaras as Puss in Boots.

My basic sense is that the studio isn’t even trying to attract kids with this one. They are aiming squarely at the adult demographic, counting on them to bring their kids with them or simply send the kids because they had seen the first one. There’s nothing about this trailer, to my eye, that sets its sites on the under 12 crowd.

THE POSTER

Boring. All the characters poking their heads out at us. If more then 15 minutes elapsed between the time the concept was conceived and the time the finished product was locked up, the graphic designers and marketing department were playing ping-pong.

THE TEASER POSTER

The teaser poster basically takes the same concept as Ghostbusters 2 and applies it to Shrek. Instead of a ghost holding up two fingers, we have the number two with Shrek’s weird horn/ear thingies. Not very original but it is effective at its core function of letting people know there’s a second one coming. Again, they are playing into adult or at least older children’s concept recognition abilities.

THE WEBSITE

Here’s where they start trying to appeal to kids. The site is very Flash-animation intensive. The central feature seems to be a “Find the Secret Ingredients” game, narrated by Pinocchio. I didn’t bother to play the game since, quite frankly, I have my intelligence insulted enough each day without actively seeking out new sources. If your not interested in this game, skip the section labeled “Travel Papers” and go immediately to “About the Movie”.

Even then, the entire “Fun and Games” section is filled with Shrek-ified versions of basic web-games (Memory is now “Think Donkey Think, for example). “Media and Downloads”, where I was hoping to find posters, backgrounds and such, simply contained the teaser trailer and two theatrical trailers.

“Meet the Characters” and “The Story” sections are pretty self-explanatory. “Behind the Fairytale” is where some of the filmmakers get their due, though portions of “Raising the Bar Again” read like a press release for Hewlett Packard. I’d be willing to bet that the quotes attributed to Myers, Diaz and Murphy throughout the site were concocted by press agents. They read to me like the “too good to be true” quotes that every interviewer dreams about but knows will never happen. There are s too many quips and funny asides in there. Even money says the cast doesn’t even know they’re on the site.

There are also the usual links to the information/purchasing options on the soundtrack (complete with SmathMouth’s “All-Star”! Again! Just like three years ago!), Shrek 3-D DVD and movie tickets.

It makes sense that the site is more geared to kids considering how internet usage demographics are shifting. Adults aren’t going to get much out of it.

OVERALL

It’s interesting to note the different demographic targets among the media types. The Internet is obviously aimed at kids whereas traditional media is looking to snare adults. Not an overly original campaign from my point of view which, quite frankly, doesn’t bode well for the movie.

Movies on the Brain: Runaway Jury

WATCHED: 2/29/04

John Cusack is one of my favorite actors and he’s a big reason why I wanted to see this one. I’ve never seen a performance by him that I didn’t enjoy, even in America’s Sweethearts. I read the book a number of years ago and know the plot has been changed to be a jury sitting on a gun-control case and not a tobacco-death case, but I’m OK with that.

0:01 – Does anyone remember Johnathan Brandmeier’s late-night talk show? Didn’t Rick Dees have one, too? For a while there in the early nineties talk shows were coming and going it was hard to keep track.

0:02 – Yes! Jeremy Piven is in this! My wife and I loved his short-lived show “Cupid” about five or six years ago. It was witty, well written and offbeat so of course it was cancelled fairly quickly.

0:04 – Dylan McDermott got killed in the first four minutes of the movie and I’m thinking, how badly does his agent suck. “Hey, Dylan! I’ve got you a part in a big money adaptation of a John Grisham book. Who do you play? Some schmuck who bites it after 150 seconds of screen time.”

0:05 – John Cusack just blew into an envelope he was opening and now I’ve got Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent going through my mind. “No one, I repeat NO ONE has seen the contents of these envelopes!”

0:08 – Gene Hackman is freaking out a cab driver by acting like he’s psychic. Why not just go the full nine and show him getting a kick out of messing with people’s heads like that?

0:10 – Does Jeremy Piven get a “Best Friend of the Lead Actor” rate for these movies? Not that he’s not a good actor, but I have to wonder if his being given a role is just a standard part of Cusacks’ contracts at this point.

0:11 – I think Gene Hackman has set up his war-room in the CIA headquarters from “Alias”. I keep waiting for him to brush past Victor Garber.

0:12 – Given my being from the Chicago area I have no problems when Jeremy Piven or John Cusack connect their characters to Chicago in some way.

0:14 – I want “Buck Rogers” on DVD for three reasons: 1) Erin Gray; 2) I want to watch it again to see when exactly the decline in quality started; 3) Erin Gray.

0:16 – Bruce Davison is a very good actor, but ever since X-Men I keep waiting for him to melt into a pool of water. By the way, how ridiculous was Halle Berry’s performance in those movies? On a scale of one to ten do these officially go to 11?
0:17 – Is it all right to hold it against the French that so many buildings in New Orleans are pink? I realize they may have had absolutely nothing to do with this, but does that really matter?

0:19 – Nora Dunn would have fit in perfectly in the National Public Radio spoofs they’ve done on Saturday Night Live recently.

0:25 – I, personally, find standing up in a courtroom, yelling at the top of my lungs and smearing myself in blood to be a bad thing. Call it upbringing, but I think this is not appropriate behavior.

0:29 – My mind has been wandering to the diner scene from Chasing Amy for the last few minutes for no real reason. I think this worked for me so well because Kevin Smith had kept Jay and Silent Bob out of the movie up until that point, so it was a pleasant surprise.

0:32 – I thought Enemy of the State was a fairly decent movie, except for Will Smith. Good performance by Hackman, though.

0:35 – Just realized this movie marks another pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz, the first of course being Confidence, which I liked. It convinced me Edward Burns could be a pretty good actor; he just needs to stop being his own director. Please realize I say that having never seen 15 Minutes.

0:39 – Can’t stop thinking about what this movie would have been like had they retained the original cigarette-based plot device. I guess it was seen as not “flashy” enough.

0:44 – I love southern food, especially grits. This completely disgusted some friends of mine when we were on a road trip to Florida. Their revulsion really just increased my enjoyment. Is that wrong?

0:46 – I’d love to see Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford on screen together again.

0:49 – No pun intended, but is the jury still out on Jennifer Beals’ career resurrection? It seems like she’s trying to get back in the game ever since Roger Dodger, which I thought was fantastic. It’s kind of too bad she’s got the whole Flashdance persona hanging over her.

0:51 – Do schools still have kids say the Pledge of Allegiance before the day begins anymore? Use to be a big deal in grade school on days when we would have to wear our Boy Scout uniforms and we would have to salute instead of placing our hands… No one is paying attention anymore are they?

0:53 – When I was a kid, playing with toy guns wasn’t really seen as a big thing. Now, of course, allowing your kids to play “war” is tantamount to giving them a real gun and pointing them in the direction of the local 7-11.
0:56 – Who invented cable television? Did they just sit down and say, “I want to put a TV signal through a wire in the ground”? Did manufacturers of antennas threaten him like the cigarette company threatened Russell Crowe in The Insider? If so, can you imagine him opening up his mailbox and seeing a pair of old-fashioned bunny ears?

1:02 – The commercials for drugs on television crack me up. My favorite is the one for the social-anxiety disorder treatment with side effects of “gas with oily discharge” and “frequent, uncontrollable urination”. They remind of the “Happy Fun Ball” commercial on Saturday Night Live years ago. “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball”.

1:05 – Does Cusack demand his characters are shown to enjoy the latest in hip music? His apartments always have posters for underground bands and such.

1:10 – Going back to the whole Cusack/Piven thing, I was kind of surprised Cusack didn’t show up in Family Man, even in a brief cameo. Yes, I know – there’s no good reason to watch Family Man. Let’s move beyond that.

1:13 – There’s all kinds of good acting going on in this movie, but I really am waiting to see Cusack and Hackman together.

1:15 – Continuing my Kevin Smith-based run of non-sequitors, I am now replaying the scene in Dogma when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are forced off the bus after Damon starts shooting people. “I can spot a commandment breaker a mile away.”

1:19 – Considering all the spam I get, I occasionally start thinking I’m paying too much for my free email accounts.

1:22 – Did Dustin Hoffman decide halfway through filming that his character was not going to have an accent? Where was the person in charge of continuity?

1:23 – I think Hoffman and Rachel Weisz are having this meeting in a Six Flags food court. Must have been a bitch to take the sound of roller coasters out during post-production.

1:26 – Hackman and Hoffman are having their confrontation in the courthouse men’s room. I didn’t really have a joke or gag written down here, so I’m wondering what I was trying to make a note of. A little voice in the back of my mind, though, keeps reminding me not go for anything obvious.

1:29 – Did Gene Hackman have a mortgage payment that he couldn’t make when he decided to take the role in Quick and the Dead? That’s the only explanation I can think of.

1:31 – Apparently John Cusack’s character used to live in Cincinnati and I’m thinking: I’ve been to Cincinnati. You’d leave too.

1:32 – I graduated high school about two years before the whole “Goth” look became nationally recognized. There were a few kids who dressed like that, but it was never a whole sub-culture like it seems to be now.

1:36 – Cusack’s jury has been sequestered in a shady looking motel and now I’m worried people are going to start dying off mysteriously.

1:37 – Cool, here’s the Cusack/Hackman confrontation I was waiting for and both actors are holding their own.

1:39 – I am a complete snob when it comes to widescreen versions of movies. If I see a pan-and-scan version on TV, I don’t care if it’s The Godfather, I’ll skip right past it and instead grab my DVD copy.

1:42 – Why do people always take out their frustrations on the phone they’ve received bad news on? You don’t see people punching their computers after getting a bad email nearly as much. How weak is the product placement group for phone companies that this keeps happening?

1:47 – Raise your hand if you’re under 30 and actually had a stereotypical disheveled-looking liberal professor in college. That’s what I thought.

1:54 – Sorry, but you can’t really do a jury deliberation scene without my waiting for Lee Cobb to threaten Henry Fonda.

1:57 – The judge keeps calling the bailiff and I can’t help but wait for Richard Moll to pop up.

2:00 – I think one of the patrons of this bar is Francis Ford Coppola. Is he in there drinking after realizing his daughter has had more successful films in the last five years than he has?

PARTING THOUGHTS – I really liked this one. It had all the markings of a big-budget studio movie but didn’t fall into as many of the potholes as those usually do. Great performances by the entire cast certainly deserve a large amount of the credit for this. Pretty nice, if not completely surprising, twist at the end along with a nice tight script and good pacing also made this movie enjoyable.

Movies on the Brain: Once Upon A Time In Mexico

WATCHED – 2/23/04

I’ve really been looking forward to this one. I saw Desperado when it came out and thought it was just a hilarious action movie. It had a much better plot and sense of humor about its own ridiculousness than most of the other “action-comedy” movies out there. Steve Buscemi should have been nominated for an Oscar.

00:01 – Anyone remember the one crossover pop hit for the Gypsy Kings? I remember when their video was actually airing on MTV years and years ago.

00:02 – Oral traditions are a part of ancient cultures I always admired. The passing down of stories and legends from one generation to the next was what gave them their sense of place in the world, one we don’t have much of these days.

00:04 – Salma Hayek has been cast as a stripper in two movies, Dogma and From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, but I can’t decide which one is hotter. Dogma had the whole bubblegum chewing cheerleader thing but Dusk had the entire atmosphere going for it. This decision may take a while and involve multiple viewings of the scenes in question.

00:05 – Anyone else still wondering what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction? I’m sure this is well known information at this point but I’m not well connected enough to be in on it.

00:07 – I had never seen Touch of Evil until I saw the Player. Fred Ward talks about the long opening tracking shot in the middle of a long opening tracking shot. Realizing this made me go track down the movie. And thinking about Fred Ward always makes me think about Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. One of those great always-on-cable-in-the-eighties movies. He learned how to dodge bullets way before Keanu Reeves needed CGI to do it. Ok, now I’m rambling.

00:08 – I can’t read a note of music, despite singing for a dozen years at school. Always drove my music-major friends nuts. That was fun.

00:10 – What? No cameo by Quentin Tarantino? All I ask is for him to pop up and tell one horrible joke. Is that too much to ask?

00:12 – Mickey Rourke is in this movie. Excellent. Meteors don’t fall to Earth as fast as his career took a nosedive. Is he going to be acting here or is this the credits for the gaffers?

00:15 – A fairly restrained Johnny Depp. I’m reasonably certain every career move Depp makes is guided by his not wanting to wind up in a “21 Jump Street” reunion television movie.

00:18 – There are lots of times I’ve wanted to kill a cook at a restaurant, but never for a meal being too good.

00:20 – I’d love to visit Venice. Only problem is I’d keep expecting Harrison Ford to pop up out of a random manhole cover at some point. I wouldn’t be able to relax the whole time.

00:23 – Big explosions in movies are fun when they’re unapologetically gratuitous. It’s when they’re done because someone actually thinks they help the story along that I think they’re a problem.

00:26 – I’m a big fan of making Reformation jokes whenever I visit a Catholic church. These tend to make everyone uncomfortable and nervous around me. Good times.

00:29 – So far this may be my favorite Johnny Depp performance.

00:31 – William Dafoe is sitting in a street café and I keep waiting for Harrison Ford to show up. Wow. Two Harrison Ford references and I’m barely a half-hour into the movie. Not bad.

00:33 – Sorry, but I think the guy on screen right now is the Mexican Burt Young. “We’re gonna punch his lungs out!”.

00:36 – What’s the point of casting Salma Hayek if only to put her in flashbacks? Still – a little Salma is better than no Salma I always say.

00:38 – Oh, man, Johnny Depp just shot Cheech! That’s just wrong.

00:41 – I hate it when I walk into a room and women start shooting at me. Happens more often than you might think, but it never stops being troubling.

00:43 – Johnny Depp apparently was able to pick out his own wardrobe for this movie. He’s had some just fantastic outfits so far. My favorite was the purple T-shirt with “C.I.A.” in big letters. This in itself is just hilarious.

00:43 – Despite the overwhelming consensus (at last count roughly 85% of the world’s population) I do like the closure that Godfather Part III provides. Sofia Coppola’s entire metamorphosis into a respected director feels like penance she’s paying for that one, though.

00:47 – There was a great line on “Angel” recently about a guy who waited sixty years for revenge: “I know revenge is a dish best served cold, but his must have been frozen solid by now”.

00:50 – You’d think checking to make sure you put bullets in a gun would be a no-brainer. It’s just like making sure you locked the door behind you and that the dryer isn’t running when you leave the house. Just make it part of your routine.

00:54 – Not translating certain dialogue into English has probably saved a lot of movies from getting a more restrictive rating. Plus, it’s taught so many kids how to curse in languages that their teachers or parents can’t understand. It’s actually kind of a public service when you think about it.

00:59 – Five-part flashbacks, where you get just a little more of the story each time, don’t really work for me. Either show us everything all at once or use dialogue to explain what happened, but don’t be a plot tease.

1:01 – I really like that there’s more screen time given to Antonio Bandaras’ helpers in this one, even if one of them is Enrique Iglesisas.

1:03 – There was just a shot of William Dafoe’s crotch that went of for far too long. I think I need one of those eye-wash sinks they put in laboratories.

1:07 – To atone for the Dafoe buffalo-shot, Eva Mendes’ breasts just took up the entire frame for a moment or two. Why wasn’t this in the trailer? Could have pushed the movie’s box-office take into Lord of the Rings territory.

1:09 – The Mexican Day of the Dead has always fascinated me. Our sensibilities in the U.S. are so delicate we are nervous about any organized remembrance of the dead, but this is a celebration of ancestors that shows how much stronger family and community ties are in some other cultures.

1:13 – Not only does he have a great wardrobe, but Johnny Depp is also getting some of the juiciest lines. This is actually a better performance by him than Pirates of the Caribbean, I think.

1:16 – Mexican Burt Young is pretty good with guns. Couldn’t they have cast Mexican Burgess Meredith and Mexican Carl Weathers? Hey – Robert Rodriguez could just do a Mexican cast-led remake of Rocky! That would be golden! He could get Mexican Talia Shire. As long as he stops after Mexican Rocky II. The world does not need a Mexican Rocky IV.

1:17 – Every character in this movie is wearing sunglasses. Do they also wear them at night? Would they wear them if they had half a pack of cigarettes?

1:19 – Part of me wants an assurance from the filmmakers Mickey Rourke was high as a kite during filming. It would increase my enjoyment of the movie three-fold.

1:23 – I don’t know what I would use them for, but I now want both a radio-controlled guitar case as well as one that doubles as a flame-thrower. I should write this down so I don’t forget what to ask for come Christmas.

1:25 – Never saw the sequels to The Crow. RIP Jason Lee.

1:26 – Johnny Depp’s character has lost his eyes and I’m thinking did the scene of his murdering his father and sleeping with his mother wind up on the cutting room floor? Why isn’t it a bonus feature on the DVD?

1:28 – It’s got to be disheartening to be a brutal would-be dictator and walk into a room only to see all your men dead on the floor. Somebody should see if Hallmark makes a card for occasions like this.

1:30 – William Dafoe is walking around with bandages on his face and I am now thinking of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. This now leads to my thinking how bad I feel that Dafoe got stuck behind that awful mask in Spider-Man.

PARTING THOUGHTS – Great movie. Enjoyed this one from beginning to end. It had the same just gleeful sense of mayhem that I got a kick out of when I saw Desperado. Everyone looked like they were having fun and that came across clearly on film. Just a fun, fun roller-coaster ride of a movie.

Critical Analysis: Pieces of April

Fitting in with ones own family is tougher than it would seem at first glance.  It would seem a no-brainer since conventional wisdom is that family-based love is unconditional.  The reality of the matter is that just as with every other relationship one has, being part of a family takes work.  Occasionally, someone is not willing to put in the effort and walks to the beat of a different drummer.

In Pieces of April, we are introduced to April, a vaguely twenty-something girl with all the visual clichés of rebellion: large obvious tattoos on her neck, reddish pink-dyed hair and clothes which look like they have been personalized after being bought at a thrift shop.  She is living outside of the rest of her family with her boyfriend in a less-than tourist friendly portion of New York.

The rest of her family, whom we meet later, is the very picture of suburbia.  Dad is a slightly overweight well-meaning sentimentalist while Mom we find out later is a breast cancer victim who has emotionally distanced herself from everyone.  Brother Timmy is a photography aficionado and sister Beth seems solely concerned with not upsetting the status quo.  We view their interpersonal interactions as they drive from their home to April’s apartment, to which they have been invited for Thanksgiving dinner.

The issue of Joy, the mother’s, breast cancer is central to the dynamic between all these people.  Beth will use her mothers’ fragile state to try and derail the trip throughout the journey.   The first thing she does when she gets in the car with her mother is badger her on an entire list of possible symptoms.  “Are you nauseous?  Are your hands clammy?”  Any sign of weakness from Joy and Beth will see it as a reason to not go.

It’s obvious that in the wake of April’s rebellion, which has apparently been going on since she was an infant, Beth has taken the role of the good daughter.  Throughout the journey Beth is putting the best spin on everything as an attempt to boost the failing spirits of her mother.  The only times Beth turns negative is when the subject of April comes up.  When Joy is remembering a happy memory of April as a child, Beth is quick to correct her that, no, that was her not April.

At one point, Joy is putting all her cards on the table.  She is letting loose with all her feelings and she says to Beth “I love you even though you’re making the same mistakes I made and I wish you’d make some of your own”.  Beth has chosen to play the part of the perfect child, as if she is hoping to give her mother a chance to reclaim her youth and health by seeing it as a rerun.

Timmy worships his mother in a different way.  He has an almost worshipful view of her, referring to her as “Mommy” despite being a seventeen to eighteen year old.  He shows her the bag of extra film he has brought for his camera in expectation of praise on the foresight he has shown.  It’s unfortunate, then, that he has forgotten the camera.

Timmy’s photography hobby has been put to use in service of his mother-idolization.  As Joy flips through a photo album later we see she is his primary subject.  One even has Joy topless before surgery; a picture she commissioned so she would remember her now removed breasts.  A later picture has her topless again, but this time post-surgery.

So we see that the two children still at home are there for a reason – their mother.  Interestingly, the sense is that the role Timmy is played was chosen by him whereas the role Beth plays seems to have been one she feels it her duty to play.

Deciding what roles we play is the heart of the matter.  Beneath Beth’s calm and loving exterior may beat the heart of someone anxious to strike out on her own.  She feels it her duty, though, to take up the slack April let down when she chose rebellion.

The relationship between April and her mother is, despite being strained to an extreme, is actually the simplest among the three siblings.  They simply don’t speak.  We’re to understand that from earliest childhood April was on a mission to upset both her mother in particular as well as the family as a whole.  Joy recounts a list of transgressions: a fire in the kitchen (which the father defends as accidental), trying to trim her brother’s bangs with a lighter and so on.  Joy even accuses infant-April biting her nipples when Joy would attempt breast-feeding.

This original sin of April’s gives some indication that her rebellious path, instead of being one of her own choosing, was actually put before her by Joy.  Any transgression by an infant has to be seen, by any logical person, as an accident.  A baby has no sense of right and wrong or often what it is they’re doing.  When their finger scratches the arm of the person holding them it’s not done out of malice or anger, but because the child has little to no sense of their own body much less someone else’s.

If Joy is seeing incidents of April’s misbehavior from infancy, she is neglecting to view the role her own emotions have played in April’s life choices.  When being bad is how someone gets attention, that’s what he or she will stick with.  April obviously got lots of attention for her behavior so she saw that as they role she was given to play.  That’s how she filled the part of daughter.  It’s a failing on both parts.

Both parties continue to see themselves as the wronged one in the relationship.  It’s not until Joy is in a restaurant bathroom after fleeing April’s seedy street that she realizes the mistakes she made.  She sees a mother and her ten-or-so year old daughter having an argument from which the mother storms away.  Joy sees the mistakes that both people made in an instant and seems to understand those mistakes will forever influence that relationship.  She then strikes out with Timmy to reconcile with April, if only for a Thanksgiving.