Pegg & Frost’s “Star Wars”: You big gold plated nancy

We’re used to seeing tangential viral marketing, but the links don’t get more tenuous than this. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are in LA this week, doing the usual round of press and screenings for the US release of Paul. And they made this video. Which is sort of about space-related stuff, but has very little to do with Paul. Longtime Star Wars fans, Pegg and Frost got to put cardboard boxes on and act up in the desert. It’s very funny. But will it make you go see their new movie?

Red Riding Hood: Marketing Fail?

Red Riding Hood movie poster 2011Catherine Hardwicke’s version of the Grimm fairy tale opened this week to what pundits are calling a “soft” box office of $14.1 million.

From Box Office Mojo:

Faring not much better than last weekend’s fairy tale revamp Beastly, Red Riding Hood mustered an estimated $14.1 million on close to 3,500 screens at 3,030 locations, which was lower than The Brothers Grimm’s debut but above average for a werewolf movie. Its estimated attendance wasn’t much better than Cursed’s. Werewolves (sans vampires) haven’t been terribly popular at the box office, so it was always unlikely that Red Riding Hood would replicate the success of the two movies that inspired it: Twilight (despite being from the same director, Catherine Hardwicke) and Alice in Wonderland. The marketing campaign for Red Riding Hood, which received a profuse push on Thursday’s American Idol, focused on a barrage of different taglines (“It wants her,” “The truth will tear her apart,” etc.) and the mystery of who the wolf was, yet it didn’t show the wolf nor provide the context for why people should care. Distributor Warner Bros.’ research showed that 64 percent of Red Riding Hood’s audience was female, and 56 percent was under 25 years old.

It’s intriguing that everyone seems to be dubbing Red Riding Hood a “werewolf” movie – it’s not. Yes, there’s a werewolf in it, but it’s framed (and stunningly shot by Mandy Walker) as more of a love story set in a magical realm. As a modern execution of a fairy tale, it’s spot on: the wooden houses in the forest, the red cloak, the snow-covered haystacks, the too-tight britches of the hunky male leads are all beautifully realised if fantasy is your thing. The casting is great too – Amanda Seyfried’s fragile near-ethereal beauty provides the central core around which other characters revolve. Julie Christie is the sinister, fur-twirling grandmother who lives outside the village for reasons best known to herself. Virginia Madsen plays Red’s Mom as vaguely slutty, regretting some of the bad decisions made in her past that come back to haunt her as her youngest daughter reaches adulthood. It’s about female relationships, the family ties that bind, and the moment when a young woman must finally break free of all that if she is to be true to herself. It does what every movie should do as a bare minimum, which is transport you to a different realm for a couple of hours.

It’s odd that Warner Brothers, after giving a cursory nod to the Twilight audience (“From the director of Twilight” is on the poster), seemed so determined to position this as a PG-13 horror movie/mystery. Surely it would have made more sense to emphasise the fantasy and magic aspect, and aim this at the Harry Potter crowd? Apart from a couple of heaving bosom moments, and some severed hands, there is nothing too scary in here, and younger, Disney-jaded kids could really enjoy this kind of story-telling. Warner Bros could have called it something other than “Red Riding Hood” too – at least they left off the “Little”.

A fairy tale with dark undertones: surely that can find an audience? These stories have been around for hundreds of years and have in-built branding. The studios are going to have to figure out how to market this genre successfully as there are two versions of Snow White on the horizon, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is currently in production. It comes down to the studios lacking practice in selling non-fluff to females. That audience is there, and will turn out in droves as they did for Twilight, but they have to be nurtured and respected for their loyalty, just like the fanboys.

Weekend Report – Box Office Mojo

Statistics Prove Hollywood Movies Getting Worse

Everyone’s thinking it, but have crunched the numbers and come up with a chart.

We looked at the 20 most popular movies each year, for the past 20 years. The key, we think, is to look for movies that some love and some hate, which is the likely profile of a bad movie that’s “safely” manufactured for an existing fanbase. In other words, movies that are polarizing.

Polarizing movies are, therefore, the kind of slop that’s thrown at comicbook and Twilight fans who’ll pony up for tickets no matter how bad the actual product is. And that’s all the studios seem to want to make – minimum risk, minimum creativity.

In other news today, Warner Brothers have announced that they will be remaking 1991 cheesefest The Bodyguard as a star vehicle for an as-yet-undecided female popster.

Visual Evidence Movies Are Getting Worse –
Warner Bros Remakes The Bodyguard–

Amanda Knox Movie “ill-timed and inappropriate”

Still from Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy (Lifetime Movie Network)After the fuss last month about the Kennedys mini-series, another movie based on a true story has hit the headlines. This time it’s the turn of the Lifetime Movie Network’s rendering of the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox story to attract tabloid ire, thanks to some insensitive comments made by its star, Hayden Panettiere. On playing Knox, who was convicted of the sexual assault and stabbing of her room-mate in 2007:

“You know, she’s a real person. She was a young girl who had dreams and aspirations and was going to Italy to go to school and to broaden her horizons and have experiences and meet new people. And I don’t think that guilty or innocent takes away from that… This is such a vulnerable story, and specifically, Amanda was so needy… My job was to play a girl who, regardless of what happened, was innocent in who she was. She’s not a malicious girl. She didn’t have any intention to do this. This wasn’t an angry or dark girl… Whatever it was that happened that night, people’s lives were ruined. But it was my job to stay pretty true to form in who she seemed to be as a person in court and otherwise.”

The families of both the victim, Meredith Kercher, and Amanda Knox are opposed to the film airing. Knox’s appeal comes up next month, and her legal team feel the inaccuracies in the movie trailer may be prejudicial to that hearing. They’re seeking a broadcast ban.

The Lifetime Movie Network, founded in 1998, mines a rich tradition of true crime ‘movies of the week’, and has always aimed them specifically at a female audience. SVP Tanya Lopez said in a 2009 interview:

“Women like true stories… Women like things that are authentic and that they can learn from. We don’t just do a ‘ripped from the headlines’ movie. We tell the story behind the story, from a female point of view… We’re reporting the emotion and the drama behind the characters. The facts are important to us and we do use them as a blueprint, but what we care about is the dramatic emotional story.”

Although Lifetime haven’t yet formally responded to the fuss, it’s likely that the producers will claim their First Amendment right to interpret the facts as creatively as they see fit, no matter how sleazy, sensationalist and fallacious others might perceive that interpretation to be. That’s entertainment for you, especially entertainment aimed at women, who aren’t meant to be as particular about media accuracy and integrity as men.

Knox Family wanted Hayden Panettiere to Meet Knox in Prison – ABC News
Hayden Panettiere defends vile Meredith Kercher murder film – The Sun
Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy – Lifetime Movie Network
True Stories Offer Cable a Lifetime of Hit Movies– NY Daily News (2009)

Too Hot For The History Channel?

Kinnear/Holmes as the KennedysThe Katie Holmes/Greg Kinnear-starring miniseries about the Kennedy family has been shelved by the History Channel after a sustained protest campaign about the accuracy of the content. “We have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand”.

Liberal politicians and historians objected to what they said were major inaccuracies in the story-telling, and asserted that the miniseries was a vindictive attempt to smear the name and memory of the Kennedys. Broadcasting it on the History Channel would have implied that it was historically based, factual, rather than fictional drama. The miniseries may well be broadcast by another channel at some point, but it will have lost its stamp of authenticity.

True life stories are a legal and creative minefield for film and TV producers, especially when they are about controversial public figures like JFK. The First Amendment allows certain protections in the US when it comes to putting an interpretation of real life events and people on screen; it’s acknowledged that a certain amount of dramatic licence is needed to shape truth into a timely and engaging narrative. Reality can’t always be shoe-horned into a neat three act structure. Nonetheless, the First Amendment doesn’t stop a lot of individuals who have been unhappy at their depiction from bringing lawsuits against film and programme-makers, and the threat of costly litigation is a dangerous one. Now it looks like censorship – particularly of recent political history – is added to the mix. No one really minds when the Tudors are depicted as sex-crazed and Machiavellian, full of greed and vanity, but when it comes to showing more recent political players as being that way, it appears that a line has been crossed.

Audiences have spent ten years getting used to the ragged and chaotic story-telling of reality TV, and have a proven taste for “based on a true story” movies. The success this awards season of THE KING’S SPEECH, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 127 HOURS, and THE FIGHTER (all based on real characters, real events) shows that there is a viable market for factual narratives. Mark Zuckerberg’s reportedly negative reaction to THE SOCIAL NETWORK has not resulted in a costly lawsuit, but instead generated huge amounts of publicity – for both the man and the movie, ending with Zuckerberg being declared Time’s Person of The Year 2010. Factual drama isn’t going to go away anytime soon. However, film and program makers need to be able to argue the case for their interpretation, both in meetings with networks and studios, and in court.

History Network Pulls Plug on Kennedy Project– AP
Stop Kennedy Smears – the website that won
From Real To Reel: In fact-based films, reality and story-telling collide – LA Times, December 27, 2010

RIP Pete Postlethwaite

As an actor, Postlethwaite added gravity and dignity to even the flimsiest of film roles. No matter what he was asked to do, he always elevated the material, and when the material matched his talent he set the screen alight.  He is far and away the best thing about so many of the movies listed by the Guardian in their tribute and the world is a poorer place this morning.

Bend It Like Beckham on North Korean TV

Bend It Like Beckham movie posterA heavily edited (down to 1 hour from 112 mins) version of BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM was the first ever Western movie to be shown on N. Korean TV. Respect due to the fixers at the British Embassy, who wangled this one. The movie was supposedly chosen because of North Korea’s fondness for football – but there are other, better football movies out there. My money’s on someone at the Embassy having a crush on Keira Knightley…

Daily Telegraph

It’s Tough At The Bottom (of the Movie Industry)

In Hollywood, aspiring producers put in long months in the mail room, or fetching coffee, often for minimum or no wage, in order to get their foot on the bottom rung of a golden ladder reaching all the way to studio executive success. Now it seems that ladder has been pulled up, leaving all those eager college grads stuck in dead end, menial jobs. Read and reconsider moving to Tinseltown.

In Hollywood, a tougher climb to studio executive ranks – LA Times