20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
In the era of the World Wide Web, the story for Home Alone would go something like this: young Kevin wakes up and realizes that his family is nowhere to be found. Wanting to make sure that they haven't disappeared, he grabs his iPad, checks Buzz's Twitter feed which says, "On the way to the airport. Can't wait to check out Paris babes!" Relieved, Kevin brings up FaceTime to contact his mother and let her know that he was left behind. She takes a cab back to the house, goes onto the airline's website to change their flight and the two of them fly out a short while later to enjoy Christmas. The end.
When British scientist Tim Berners-Lee drew up his proposal in 1989 for what would become the World Wide Web, he was just hoping to share information within the scientific community. Instead, 25 years later the Web has changed daily life for most people in ways that are too numerous to list. The rise of the Web also did something else that wasn't anticipated… it changed movies.
From a practical standpoint, the entertainment industry has taken full advantage of the Web. Every new movie release has a web presence for marketing purposes. Websites like Netflix and Amazon deliver streaming films. There are sites to tell you when movies are playing, that rate them, that show trailers and that sell movies. Thanks to Kickstarter, there are even websites that help finance productions.
What the Web has also done is changed the way that filmmakers have to tell their stories. Besides Home Alone, there are a variety of plot points that had to be abandoned once the Web became an omnipresent part of life. Sam's family in Sixteen Candles wouldn't have forgotten her birthday, because they all would've gotten Facebook reminders. Dr. Richard Kimble doesn’t have to go all over Chicago to find his wife's killer in The Fugitive; he just needs access to Google. Ferris Bueller would've been busted as soon as his parade antics went viral on YouTube. In Sleepless in Seattle, Jonah would've just brought up Annie's profile on the Baltimore Sun website and said "See, she's pretty!" Die Hard basically wouldn't have a plot left… same with My Cousin Vinny and numerous others.
Screenwriters and directors now have to account for the Web (and cell phones), when plotting out their stories. Want to update Romeo & Juliet? Have fun trying to work around the leads not e-mailing, Skyping or texting. Want to remake The Usual Suspects? Better have an answer for why that picture of Keyser Soze isn't available on any law enforcement websites.
Anyone wishing to tell a story with farcical elements has to work harder than ever to create the ruse, because no part of it can hinge on information that is readily available on the Web. If the character could look it up on Wikipedia, it's kind of hard to explain why they wouldn't just do that.
While some have skirted the issue by finding the few corners of the world that technology hasn't reached — think Babel — a number of filmmakers have instead sought solace in the past. Whether it's Ben Affleck with Argo, David O. Russell with American Hustle, Quentin Tarantino with Django Unchained or J.J. Abrams with Super 8, big name directors are opting to tell stories from before the dawn of websites as a way around dealing with the issue. Of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, four were set before 1990… and two of the others took place in the middle of the ocean (Captain Phillips) and in space (Gravity).
Of course, one of the other nominees showed a different path that filmmakers can now explore to tell new and interesting stories. Spike Jonze's Her made technology a character all on its own. Instead of just altering the ways that filmmakers tell stories — and studios produce and market movies — maybe over the next 25 years of its existence the World Wide Web will become a movie star in its own right. Hey, it's not any more farfetched than the various John Hughes plot devices from the '80s that the Web has rendered obsolete.
As Ladder 49 opens Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) gets trapped inside a blazing warehouse while rescuing a trapped civilian. With his escape routes either caved in or burned down Jack has to keep his wits as he waits for Fire Chief Mike Kennedy (John Travolta) and his fellow firefighters to rescue him. Lying in a bed of rubble Jack has rather vivid and detailed flashbacks of pivotal moments in his life including his first day at the firehouse the day he met his wife-to-be at the supermarket their wedding day the birth of their daughter and so on. While these flashbacks provide neat chronological accounts of his life they do very little to shape or build Jack's character because they are focused on his heroic antics rather than the man underneath the uniform. The film also works feverishly to showcase the brotherly bond between the men but doesn't extend beyond silly firehouse pranks including putting a goose in someone's locker or tossing a lit newspaper into an occupied toilette stall. The only thing missing from these tawdry sitcom-like moments is a laugh track. Third Watch the NBC drama following New York City police paramedics and firefighters on the 3-11 p.m. shift offers more character development and intrigue in a one-hour episode than this feature film dishes out in two hours.
Phoenix is both sweet and awkward in the role of Jack a rookie firefighter who can't hide his enthusiasm about his line of work. Jack's charming side is demonstrated in his relationship with his wife particularly in the intensely loving way Phoenix looks at his co-star Jacinda Barrett whether they're at a crowded birthday bash or riding on the back of the fire truck following their humble small-town nuptials. Phoenix's Jack also has a slightly dim-witted side which comes through in the "Aw shucks" way he reacts to being the butt of many firehouse pranks. But there's a third sadly missing dimension missing to Jack: He's a hero with no fire in his belly. Travolta on the other hand just isn't convincing in this blue-collar role of fire chief. Perhaps it's just that these characters are too damn perfect. Post 9/11 firefighters have become more than rescuers they are in the eyes of many Americans heroes and Ladder 49 adopts the biased notion that they are also faultless.
Director Jay Russell (Tuck Everlasting) visually captures the essence of this working class Baltimore neighborhood and its firehouse from Jack's cluttered wood-paneled home to Mike's utilitarian firehouse office. Production designer Tony Burrough paid meticulous attention to set details particularly in how the backdrops age over a decade; Jack's house becomes junkier and his gear gets dingier. The controlled fires on the set look incredibly real and feel equally oppressive--and this is where Russell's direction really shines. A scene in which Jack enters his first burning building for example adds to the film's authenticity: The probie (firefighter lingo for a new guy) runs up the stairs too fast and doesn't aim the hose high enough. These small details remind moviegoers what an exact line of work this really is. But while Ladder 49 effectively demonstrates the risky and altruistic work firefighters do it doesn't delve any deeper than its spectacular rescues. Throughout the film Jack is asked what motivates him to run into a burning building when everyone else is running out--a question scribe Lewis Colick never lets Ladder 49's characters answer.
ABC and Ted Koppel sealed a deal that will ensure the future of the late-night news program Nightline for at least two more years in its 11:35 p.m. time slot, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Last month, ABC tried to woo David Letterman away from CBS to start a new late-night talk show in the 11:35 slot that Koppel has held for 22 years, casting doubt on Nightline's future. Meanwhile, Koppel still has four years remaining on his contract.
Manchester United soccer player David Beckham has bought his wife, Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham, an armored Mercedes with one-inch-thick windows that can withstand gunfire and floors that are reinforced to protect against landmine blasts. According to the This Is London Web site, the car, valued at more than $200,000, also has an airtight passenger compartment in case of a gas attack. Two years ago, Scotland Yard uncovered a plot to kidnap the singer and their son, Brooklyn.
Fashion designer Stella McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Paul McCartney, is causing a ruckus because of a rooftop shower she added to her multimillion-dollar house in west London's Notting Hill, Reuters reports. The Westminster City Council has launched an investigation about the wooden shower and pallings atop McCartney's home after complaints from neighbors. Because the neighborhood and its period properties are a conservation area, residents and council officials are sensitive to change.
Boxer Mike Tyson is denying allegations that he assaulted a stripper and her boyfriend following an argument at a topless bar in Phoenix, Ariz., Sunday morning. A Phoenix police spokesman told Reuters there were no visible injuries on either of the alleged victims and that witnesses gave conflicting reports of the incident. The investigation is ongoing.
In the Biz
Pre-production on the Fat Albert movie has stopped because of creative differences between the cartoon's creator, Bill Cosby, and director Forest Whitaker. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Whitaker is now off the project, and the search for a new director is on. A representative from Fox described the director's departure as amicable.
Australian thesp Russell Crowe may be teaming up again with Gladiator director Ridley Scott on a new film. Tripoli, a historical epic about U.S. soldier and diplomat William Eaton, who joined forces with an exiled king to overthrow the corrupt ruler of Tripoli (in what is now Libya) in the early 1800s, is expected to begin shooting this fall, Variety reports.
Universal pictures sealed a deal to pick up Robert Franke's intergalactic thriller Razors, Variety reports. Described as The Dirty Dozen in outer space, the film is set 600 years from now and follows mankind's terrifying expansion outward to fringe galaxies, including one that is inhabited by conscienceless superhumans.
Blame it on Lisa. Rio de Janeiro's tourist board is considering legal action against the producers of The Simpsons because of an episode that it says undermined a campaign to attract visitors to the Brazilian city, Reuters reports. In last week's episode, the Simpsons leave the cozy confines of Springfield and head to Rio de Janeiro to find a missing orphan whom Lisa has been sponsoring. They run across monkeys and rats, which is what the board found most offensive, saying it made the city look like a jungle.
The finale for Fox's hit television show 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland is being heavily guarded. According to Variety, anyone involved in the series' production will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement, promising not to disclose any information about the script or season finale. Production is set to begin April 18 and apparently contains some surprise twists and turns that would be spoiled if they leaked out.
NBC's Today is launching an on-air book club in June, People reports. The news comes on the heels of Oprah Winfrey's decision to scale back on the books she will promote on her show. But rather than have hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer recommend books, the show will invite top-selling authors to suggest books by lesser-known authors.
OutKast appeared at a music festival in South Carolina despite a call from the NAACP for an economic boycott of the state, the Associated Press reports. OutKast performed the song "Rosa Parks" and told the crowd that it decided to perform because people working at the festival would lose their jobs if it didn't. The group said that it will continue to support the NAACP despite ignoring the boycott, which was organized to protest the continued use of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds.
Suzan-Lori Parks became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her play Topdog/Underdog, a drama about sibling rivalry and dreams denied, the AP reports. The play first debuted at the off-Broadway nonprofit Public Theater last July and made its official Broadway debut Sunday night to rave reviews.
Air Force Sergeant John Agar, who became an actor after marrying Shirley Temple, died Sunday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, Calif. He was 81. Agar met Temple in 1945 when he was 24 and she was just 16. They began a romance and were married later the same year. The two starred in two films together, Fort Apache and Adventure in Baltimore and, in 1948, Temple gave birth to their daughter, Susan. Temple filed for divorced in 1949, troubled by Agar's drinking and many flirtations, AP reports. Agar went on to star in mostly Westerns and war movies, including She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Along the Great Divide.
Mexican actress Maria Felix, known as a femme fatale throughout Latin America and the one-time lover of the painter Diego Rivera, died of heart failure Monday at her house in Mexico City, Mexico, Reuters reports. Described as the country's Marilyn Monroe, Felix appeared in 47 films, including La Generala and French Cancan.
Want to know what those ubiquitous "sources" and "insiders" have to say about the Meg Ryan-Russell Crowe "affair"? How about Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera or Roseanne? Well, not to sound too much like a TV commercial for the National Enquirer or anything, we got all the so-called scoops and gossip courtesy of the world of tabloid news.
So without further ado, here’re the Top 10 tabloid stories that whetted our curiosity:
1. Whassup with Meg, Dennis and Russell Nothing new since last week at least. The major tabs (Star, the National Enquirer, the Globe) all report this week what was already reported last week. Yes, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan have separated. And, yes, Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe have been spotted together in a more-than-just-friends manner more than once in England, where the two are currently shooting the flick "Proof of Love."
2. Porn Industry Discriminates Against Roseanne? The National Enquirer says that former domestic goddess Roseanne had offered herself up for a Playboy centerfold, only to get turned down by the magazine’s owner, Hugh Hefner. Peeved, the actress reportedly challenged Hefner to put a poll up on the Playboy Web site and let his readers decide. (We called the Playboy folks today, and they told us that the whole thing is just "a fun, little made-up story.")
3. Oprah Has Problems, Too! The Star says that the queen of all talk show hosts has been carrying on an affair with another man behind fiancé Stedman Graham’s back for 24 years. The tab reveals the identity of the man whom Oprah’s heart truly belongs to: one Lloyd Dramer, a reporter she met in 1976 at a TV station in Baltimore.
4. Britney Spears: Teen Superstar, Teen Bitch? An "insider" tells the Star that the 18-year-old pop princess insisted on traveling with a snow cone machine, an air hockey table and her own tanning bed on her tour. Moreover, Spears reportedly made some poor wage earner take out all the cereal from four boxes of Lucky Charms so that the she can wholeheartedly indulge in the pink hearts, yellow moons and green clover marshmallow crumbs.
5. Steve Allen Confesses: Christina Aguilera -- She’s Hot! Thus is the original "Tonight Show" host’s sentiments as summarized in the Enquirer. After catching a glimpse of the songstress’s video "What a Girl Wants," the veteran TV personality was quoted as saying: (a) "The young girl is beautiful" and (b) "As regards to dancing like this, my rating is 100 percent. I can give it all sorts of marks of A-plus."
6. Christina Aguilera Confesses: I See White Light, Dead People Per the National Enquirer, Aguilera possesses the rare ability to see otherworldly stuff like, y’know, ghosts and spirits. According to the tab’s unnamed source, the 19-year-old singer had her first spectral encounter was she was 3 or 4 and can still sense their presence 'til this day.
7. Six Degrees of Royal Highness According to genealogy researchers excavated by the Enquirer, the King of Rock 'n' Roll Elvis Presley carried the royal blood of King Edward III. It’s a bit confusing, but here’s what the "experts" are saying: The pompadour singer’s ancestors were the wealthy Mansels family in Wales. One of the Mansels later married a descendent of King Edward III, thus making Elvis of royal lineage. But the experts remained mute as to how they were able to establish the initial connection between Elvis and the Mansels.
8. FBI Agent Gary Busey? Actor/motorcycle helmet advocate Gary Busey reportedly told the Globe that he has been enlisted by the FBI on a project to help American Indians and that he has a special agent badge issued by the Feds to prove it. When approached by the tab on the matter, the FBI said Busey's account just wasn't so.
9. Handicapped Feline Learns to Walk Again A classic testament of triumph over adversity, the Enquirer this week brings us the true story of Claire the injured stray kitten, who, despite her paralyzed hind legs, has learned to walk with the help of rehab. A miracle indeed.
10. John Travolta Looking Funny on Magazine Cover A tip from the National Enquirer: If you want to laugh, go look at the cover of the July issue of Good Housekeeping. On it is a funny-looking John Travolta, whose new hairdo is being slammed by "industry insiders" as an odd mix of Eddie Munster and Dr. Zira from "The Planet of the Apes."
Hollywood is expecting Warner Bros. and Castle Rock Entertainment's opening of "The Green Mile" to walk off with the most box office green this weekend.
The R-rated drama, written and directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tom Hanks, kicks off at more than 2,850 theaters.
"'Toy Story ,' if it's down in the neighborhood of 35-40%, is $16-18 million. And I think 'Green Mile' beats that based on the tracking. They're sitting there with an 18% first choice right now," one studio executive said earlier this week."
"It is high," he said of the tracking results. "Although I understand the reviews are not very good, with Tom Hanks (starring), that's $20 million-plus."
While a $20 million-plus opening is certainly very attractive, it's not spectacular. One of the factors working against a bigger first weekend for the adult appeal "Green" is that adults are busy with shopping and other things in the post-Thanksgiving weeks.
"Women are not so available (this weekend) with Christmas shopping and parties and all that," the executive observed. "But it is Tom Hanks. If anything keeps it from getting to $20 million, it's exactly that factor -- the time of the year. Last year, 'You've Got Mail' opened to something like $18 million ($18.4 million via Warner Bros. the weekend of Dec. 18-20). But you probably have more male interest in 'Green Mile' than there was in 'You've Got Mail,' which was more of a chick flick."
On the other hand, he added, "If 'Toy Story' is down only 28%, that's $20 million, too. But my gut feeling is 'Green Mile' probably edges it out, and then 'Toy Story' is somewhere around $18 million."
The Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar G-rated computer-animated blockbuster "Toy Story 2" is heading for $250 million to $300 million in domestic theaters. Directed by John Lasseter, "Toy 2" features the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Estelle Harris and R. Lee Ermey.
Third place this weekend should go to Buena Vista/Touchstone's opening of its R-rated youth-appeal comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" at about 2,000 theaters.
"'Deuce Bigalow' has actually got a 12% first choice at this point," the executive said. "I think that's (a gross) somewhere in the low-to-mid-teens. I understand it's a pretty rough R, but I don't think that will keep teen-age and young-adult audiences from coming to see it." Directed by Mike Mitchell, it stars "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Rob Schneider.
MGM's "The World Is Not Enough" should wind up in fourth place with around $7 million. The PG-13-rated "World," the 19th in MGM's James Bond series, is directed by Michael Apted and stars Pierce Brosnan in his third performance as 007.
There could be a close race for fifth place. Both Universal and Beacon Pictures' R-rated action epic "End of Days" and Paramount's R-rated "Sleepy Hollow" could wind up grossing around $6 million this weekend.
Directed by Peter Hyams, "End of Days" is a supernatural thriller pitting Arnold Schwarzenegger against Satan. "Sleepy Hollow," directed by Tim Burton, stars Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.
Universal's R-rated thriller "The Bone Collector," directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie, which finished fifth last weekend, appears likely to come in seventh this time around.
"'Bone Collector' has been hanging in there respectably, but it was down to $3.2 million last weekend and, I'm assuming, they're going to lose theaters because they're at that point now where they're just going to get crowded out of the 12-plexes and so on. It should be somewhere in the low $2 millions."
Rounding out the chart in eighth, ninth and 10th place will be three of the following four films: Warner Bros.' G-rated animated feature "Pokemon: The First Movie"; Lions Gate's R-rated irreverent comedy "Dogma," directed by Kevin Smith and starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Linda Fiorentino; Buena Vista/Touchstone's R-rated drama "The Insider," directed by Michael Mann and starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe; and USA Films' R-rated comedy-drama "Being John Malkovich," directed by Spike Jonze and starring John Malkovich, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener.
On the specialized front, there will be considerable activity this weekend. Miramax's PG-13-rated drama "The Cider House Rules" starts exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles. A likely Oscar and Golden Globes contender in a number of the major categories, "Cider House" was adapted to the screen by John Irving from his own novel. It was directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine.
Miramax's PG-13-rated comedy-drama "Diamonds" opens in New York for a one-week Oscar qualifying run. Directed by John Asher, it stars Kirk Douglas, Dan Aykroyd and Lauren Bacall.
Warner Bros.' R-rated comedy-drama "Liberty Heights," which opened in mid-November in New York, L.A. and Baltimore (where it takes place), goes into limited release. The studio will hold sneak previews of the critically acclaimed "Heights" the following weekend and take it wider Dec. 22. Written and directed by Barry Levinson, the film stars Adrien Brody, Ben Foster, Orlando Jones, Bebe Neuwirth and Joe Mantegna.
MGM's R-rated drama "Miss Julie" starts exclusive runs in New York and L.A. Directed by Mike Figgis, it stars Saffron Burrows, Peter Mullan and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Fine Line's PG-13-rated drama "Tumbleweeds," playing in New York and L.A. since Nov. 24, goes into limited release in the top 15 markets. Directed by Gavin O'Connor, it stars Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown.
Looking ahead to the weekend of Dec. 17-19, insiders say 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King" is at this early point only a 5 percent first choice in tracking studies. Buena Vista/Touchstone's "Bicentennial Man" is an 8 percent first choice. Those numbers should increase as their marketing campaigns kick in, especially with television advertising.
The PG-13-rated period drama "Anna" is directed by Andy Tennant and stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. The PG-rated family comedy "Bicentennial Man" is directed by Chris Columbus and stars Robin Williams.
Also arriving in theaters Dec. 17 is Columbia's PG rated fantasy-adventure "Stuart Little." "Of course, 'Stuart Little's' very hard to judge because kids' movies just don't track well," the studio executive said.
On the other hand, Universal's R-rated bio-drama "Man On The Moon," directed by Milos Forman and starring Jim Carrey as late comedian Andy Kaufman, is already said to be showing a 9% first-choice score in tracking studies.
"You've got to figure that's (because of) Carrey," says the executive. Since "Man" doesn't land in theaters until Dec. 22, there's plenty of time for its already good score to increase and translate into a big opening weekend.