December 14, 2009 3:47am EST
According to The New York Times, five years into the uneasy reign of chairman Brad Grey, Paramount is at long last catching a moment in the sun. In the interview, the executive weighs in on his greatest mistakes and achievements and a possible new tentpole from J.J. Abrams.
"Yes, it will be our biggest," Grey tells the Times of the profit potential in the fourth quarter. Home entertainment revenue is up, ticket sales have been strong (see Paranormal Activity) and costs have dropped as Grey pushed Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island into next year to focus on Jason Reitman's Up in the Air and on the December introduction of Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, a film that will not get its big-budget marketing push until January.
Since taking charge of the studio from Sherry Lansing in January 2005, Grey has attracted attention, critical and otherwise, about his bid for prominence in the movie industry, after years spent mostly in television, the NYT notes.
Last week, Grey spoke to the Times in a far-ranging, if cautious, conversation about both his tenure and his plans for Paramount.
"I'm passionate about Paramount, I'm passionate about my colleagues here," Grey intoned. The job cuts, he said, have largely stopped. In a creative group now headed by Adam Goodman, Grey insists the turmoil is over.
Asked to describe his greatest mistake while at Paramount, Grey at first deflected the question, then said that it lay with his hiring decisions. "Putting a team together that had time to jell was more challenging than I thought."
As for achievements, Grey is proud to have whittled Paramount's release schedule to what he believes will be a profitable core of about 16 films a year.
That film count is down from a peak of 22 two years ago when Grey had aggressively expanded production. This year, Paramount will have released just 14 movies, and a handful of remaining Vantage films.
That's fewer than any of its major competitors while the studio is second only to Warner Bros. in the box-office race, with almost $1.5 billion in domestic ticket sales, to $1.9 billion for Warner, which has twice as many pictures.
Pali Capital analyst Richard Greenfield calls all of this a good start. "It's still a studio in transition," he told the NYT.
"They're now gaining some momentum in finding their own franchises," said Greenfield. As to whether the good times can be sustained, Greenfield said "that can't be answered today," though he added: "They're in a far, far better position than they were."
Overall, the idea is to pick winners and to do so without relying heavily on the kind of outside investors and other risk-sharing mechanisms that were common before the capital markets seized.
In finding those hits -- and avoiding misses, like The Love Guru or The Soloist -- Grey's staff will be increasingly on its own: Films from the DreamWorks slate are nearly played out and Marvel, though it still owes Paramount five movies, is now owned by Disney.
But, said Grey, the profit potential from successes that are produced and owned entirely by Paramount is vastly higher than that from films that are distributed for a fee. "We want that exponential profit," he said.
There will be sequels, Grey said, to both Paranormal Activity and G.I. Joe.
The studio also recently moved to create a micro-budget division that will become a kind of research and development arm.
On another front, Paramount is expected as early as this week to extend a trial period under which it has made films available to Redbox, even as several other studios have avoided dealing with the service.
Grey also told the Times there is a possibility that J. J. Abrams could direct another yet-to-be-announced tentpole before the arrival of Star Trek 2 and Mission: Impossible IV.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Apparently modest box-office success is good enough for a sequel these days. After watching our hero Chev spend 24 hours keeping his heart going at lightning speed to fight off a deadly poison in the first Crank we now get the High Voltage follow-up which picks up exactly where the story left off. Chev survives a fall to certain death only to wake up three months later to find a Chinese mobster has replaced his all-powerful heart with a battery-operated device that requires constant jolts of electricity in order to stay alive. He escapes and with intermittent charging from car batteries and phone wires embarks on a marathon chase to retrieve his heart and fight off various bad guys including a Mexican gang boss and a group of Chinese triads led by 100-year-old Poon Dong who desires Chev's vital organs (yes even THAT one) for his own purposes.
WHO'S IN IT?
Jason Statham is back as Chev of course displaying the same combination of kickass frenetic action and dumb comedy that marked the first edition. Forced to act the human equivalent of a Road Runner cartoon Statham gives it his all but it's a stretch to say the least. Everyone else plays mainly one-dimensional buffoons including the moronic hyped-up Chinese stereotype from Bai Ling who has been given lines like: "This dude my Kevin Costner and he gonna beat you off" or "You need me like Whitney Houston dude." Apparently the 17-year-old The Bodyguard was the last movie these screenwriters saw. Clifton Collins Jr. (Sunshine Cleaning) seems to revel in overacting the Mexican baddie El Huron while a really old-looking David Carradine destroys any fond memories of Kung Fu as he plays the jokey Poon Dong. Back from the original are Dwight Yoakam literally phoning his part in as the ever helpful Doc and Amy Smart as Chev's hot girlfriend.
It's in focus.
Moviegoers with the stomach to watch nipples and kneecaps being sliced and diced dumb profane dialogue spelled out in graphic letters on the screen in case you're hard of hearing over-the-top acting and sleazy direction — you all will love it. It's a shame to see the usually solid Statham waste his potential in stuff that aims for the lowest common denominator and hits its target.
MOST CREATIVE SEX SCENE IN A JASON STATHAM MOVIE:
The horny and uninhibited Statham and Smart turn the racing track at Hollywood Park into their own personal motel room as they horse around in X-rated style while the betting crowd cheers them on. We're not sure about Win or Place but these two definitely Show.
MOST PROPHETIC LINE:
During outtakes over the end credits Statham blurts out "It's so hard to keep a straight face!" We were thinking the same thing Jason.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Netflix. But you know skip this and rent the first Crank instead where there is at least a modicum of originality.
Cooked up in the head of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) comes the movie in which he makes his directorial debut. Without Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze sifting through the maze this time Kaufman himself weaves this crazy quilt with consummate skill. In other words Synecdoche New York is just as successfully quirky humane and head scratching as all the others in the Kaufman ouerve. To sum up the plot succinctly is impossible but it centers on a stage director and hypochondriac Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who trades in his suburban life with wife Adele (Catherine Keener) daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) and regional theatrical work in Schenectady for a chance at Broadway. He puts together a cast (resembling those in his own dream world) and brings them to a Manhattan warehouse being designed as a replica of the city outside. As the world he is creating inside these walls expands so does the focus of his own life and relationships. As the years literally fly by he gets deeper into his theatrical self which soon starts to merge with his own increasingly pathetic reality. Whatever you make of the tale Kaufman is telling here the casting could not be better or more suited to the quirky material. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers up a tour-de-force and is simply superb playing all the tics and foibles of the deeply disturbed Caden. His early scenes in his “normal” home are wonderfully alive with all his phobias and hypochondria in view. Later we literally watch this man disintegrate as his master creation overwhelms him. Hoffman seems to fully understand the mental trauma of a man running as far from his own realities as he possibly can. Catherine Keener as always is right on target as his wife Adele. She has a knack for taking what seems like tiny moments and making them define exactly who this woman is. Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentor to Caden’s daughter is always fascinating to watch and plays Maria with an ounce of irony. Tom Noonan playing the actor portraying Caden in the play is the perfect doppelganger and delightfully adds to Caden’s confused state. The all-pro trio of Michelle Williams as Caden’s new wife Claire; Samantha Morton as the irresistible assistant Hazel; and Hope Davis as Caden’s self-absorbed therapist add greatly to the merry mix. It’s nice to watch Charlie Kaufman seize control of his own work. In this instance he’s really the only one who can deliver us his Fellini-esque vision. Centering it all on the theatrical director’s weird universe Synecdoche does seem like it might be Kaufman’s own take on Fellini’s 8 ½ or even Woody Allen’s paean to that film Stardust Memories. Let’s just say we know most of it must exist somewhere inside Kaufman. Early domestic scenes could have been played flat but the novice director moves the camera around skillfully enough to make us immediately engaged in Caden’s world. Second half of the film set in the phantasmagoric warehouse is a stunning tapestry of scenes from Kaufman’s singularly fertile imagination. It’s nice to note he’s well equipped with the basic tools a director needs for this type of challenging material. Overall his film is a surprising confounding visual feast -- a dream/nightmare come to life and then spinning out of control.