Wednesday, February 16, 2005

If I Had Michael Eisner's Ear

There's no doubt about it, the Walt Disney Company is in danger. How did this happen? Michael Eisner, the very man who saved the company from ruin in the eighties, is now presiding over a quagmire that threatens to sick the company to the depths it knew in the lower seventies. If I were an advisor to Michael Eisner, I would tell him to do a few things for the company this year, that might lead to more profits in 2006.

1. Re-hire Roy E. Disney and put him back in charge of feature animation. Patch things up, it can be done -- animation is the soul of the business. Reconstitute the hand-drawn studio, but stagger the releases so that time can be had to build up quality. Walt once dreamed of artistic experiments -- revive that by making deals with Eric Goldberg, Sylvain Chomet, Richard Williams, and Hayao Miyazaki.

2. Step up the release of Herbie: Fully Loaded to late April. Trust me, Lindsay Lohan is going to be having a very public crash soon, and it's only going to drag down the chances of a film starring her and marketed at kids. You don't want Herbie to be her first post-rehab release.

3. Buy more book properties for kids. Holes was a genuine success, and Charlotte's Web is certainly promising. Buy Bunnicula, I loved that as a kid. The successes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings show that people are into fantasy series right now, so buy one of them and start making high-quality films.

4. Shut down Hollywood Pictures (if it hasn't already), and limit Touchstone to just ten releases a year. Build up the quality of these movies with great talent, low budgets, and top notch scripts. Eisner did it at Paramount for years, he can do it again.

5. Admit mistakes were made and sell off Disneyland Paris. Bring the nicer rides back to the US and stick them in Disney's California Adventure (and rename that something like Disneyland Northwest). Sell the land in Paris and get out, stop bleeding money.

6. Re-establish a deal with Hilary Duff. Not only does Disney need her, she needs them. Right now, she's floating, and her biggest success since leaving Disney has been her music career (on Disney's Hollywood Records). One day, Hilary will realize her mother is holding her back from success and move on. Be patient. In the meantime, she has the potential to be a huge teen star, bigger than she already is.

7. Re-establish the Muppets as what they once were: "More fun than humanly possible." Put them back in the public eye and start another television series, a la Muppets Tonight, in a kid-freindly time slot.

8. It's gonna hurt, but take the cut that Pixar wants. 10% of $200 million is still a lot of money, and Pixar stays under the Disney brand and in the theme parks. This is a cash cow that you are letting walk over the side of the hill because of pride and greed. Plus, taking the cut makes you look fair and honest, and encourages others to make Disney deals.

9. Create an imprint of Hollywood Records to nourish harder-edged artists, and hire Chuck D to run it. Consider also a music channel...

10. Buy out the NFL and put it on ESPN instead of networks, and watch ad revenue go through the roof.

11. Dump the Weinsteins, both of them, and let them have their Fellowship Adventure Group (FAG?), and return Miramax to a company that produces less films per year than it acquires. It was madness for Miramax to get so heavily into production, producing far too many expensive films. Introduce a more restrictive price cap on what Miramax can spend. Put Katy Conrad in charge of it, too.

12. Get someone on quality control for Dimension Films, or else just sell them to the Sci Fi Channel. Most of their films are embarrassing, despite the money they (occasionally) bring in. While we're on the subject, buy the Sci Fi Channel and put Paul T. Riddell in charge of it. I just think someone should...

13. Marvel Comics movies are about to start sucking like mad. Fantastic Four will be an embarrassment. Once Spider-Man 3 is over with, Marvel Entertainment will start doing badly. Buy it then and watch toy revenue increase.

14. Close most of the Disney Stores. Make it something nice, a little upscale, that people have to drive to find. Fill them with things people really want to buy; cater a little to Disneyana collectors, show you have some respect for them (and not contempt, which is what they feel right now). More stores just means less revenue for each one.

15. Get rid of ABC. It's too much to manage, and it's going to become a problem.

16. Foster relationships with real composers, not populist hacks like Elton John, and make real musicals again.

17. Find more Disney films to turn into Broadway shows. Excellent job being done there.

18. Fantasia 2010!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Best Picture of the Year

Just yesterday, my girlfriend and I indulged in one of the lost traditions of American pop culture: the movie crawl. Before DVD and video, if you wanted to see several movies at once, you had to do a movie crawl, where you just went to a theater and saw everything you could. So, she and I went to our local theater and saw four of the five nominees for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. So, for the first time in my 28 years, I've actually seen all five nominees BEFORE the ceremony.

We caught Ray on DVD the other night, and I have to say, the hype is all justified. As a longtime lover of Ray Charles's music, and many years of being irritated by Jamie Foxx, I was amazingly surprised by just how good this movie was. Engrossing, intense, and powerfully dramatic, this film is certainly one of the best of this or any other year. And when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong -- Jamie Foxx's performance as the Genius has to win the Oscar, or the whole ceremony is for shit. This is one of the best films ever made.

How did Sideways get nominated, and why did it get so many four-star reviews? It was cute and enjoyable, sure, but it doesn't have much to say about life that Forrest Gump didn't (just substitue "wine" for "chocolate"). It was serviceably good, and hey, as soon as they start giving awards for serviceably good, this film can get in line. It wasn't even as good as director Alexander Payne's previous three movies. And Thomas Haden Church doesn't deserve to even go to the Oscars, much less be nominated for one.

The Aviator was good, but problematic. It's certainly not Martin Scorsese's best work, and it would be a shame to see him win for this one. Leonardo Di Caprio, someone I'm not a huge fan of, did the work of his career in this film, and for the first two-thirds, I was rivited, but it started to drag in the third act. The emotional connection was never quite there, and we didn't get as much insight into Howard Hughes as was needed to sympathize with him. Cate Blanchett is wonderful. Great special effects, though -- the scene with the aeriel dogfight is impressive, to say the least.

I really thought Finding Neverland was a beautiful movie, telling a nice story with surprising understatement. I hated Marc Forster's previous directorial effort, Monster's Ball, with a fiery passion. I love this movie just as much. Great performances, great story -- what more do you need? Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are two of the greatest actors alive.

The best movie of the year is definitely Million Dollar Baby. Poignant, tragic, and emotionally deep, the story of a retired boxer and the woman he trains as though she were his own daughter is stunning and powerful. Clint Eastwood used to be a fun actor and so-so director, but somewhere around 1990 he became a graceful artist in both categories, and this is not only his best performance ever, but his best film ever. And Hilary Swank, in her second role of a lifetime, is so good that you actually begin to let yourself believe that the Best Actress Oscar might actually go to someone who deserves it...

This year, I'm actually looking forward to the Oscars.

The 47th Grammy Awards

Is there a more useless award than the Grammy? The categories are so arcane that even music buffs can't understand them, and the voting body seems to be made up only of oldsters who accept publicist hype as truth. They seem to pick the winners the same way the Archies would pick where to go on vacation -- spin the globe, blindfold Jughead, and give him a dart. The funniest aspect of the Grammys is that, really, nominations don't matter -- only winners. It's only about eight hours later, and I can't even find the nominee list online, so I'm just winging this.

Anyway, as a music buff in many ways, I took a look at the Grammy winners from last night (I would never watch the show). And even though I care less about the Grammys than who wins the Superbowl, I have some thoughts on the winners.

Ray Charles won Album of the Year, to the surprise of no one. He did the one thing that guarantees an award every year: he died. But beyond the cynicism, I don't really think there's anyone who can successfully argue against it. What was his competition? Another pretentious album by Alicia Keys, another pretentious album by Usher (who seems to be living his life as though he were Roman nobility -- love the smug way he assumes everyone is interested in him), Kanye West's debut album (which at least shows some prowess and potential), and Green Day's album, which should be titled The Long, Slow Heat Death of Punk Rock. Ray Charles was still a vital artist, still effortlessly talented, and deserves every honor ever attached to his name.

Ray Charles also won Record of the Year, for "Here We Go Again," a duet with Norah Jones. She's becoming quite an interesting duet artist (she also did a song with Dolly Parton), and she's a talented singer in her own right. It's nice to see something listenable win this award, and not Usher or the Black-Eyed Peas, who I still think are some kind of joke group. "American Idiot" was at least a decent song; everything after was disappointing. Thanks for nothing, Green Day.

Now, I'm not really sure of the difference between Record of the Year and Song of the Year, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with engineering and sound. I'm even more sure it's one of those hair-splitting categories designed to honor singer-songwriters and their pretentious, faux-folk (or fauxlk, if you will) tradition. Anyway, John Mayer, who deserves not an award so much as a punch in the mouth, won for his insipid song "Daughters." How many more songs will he need to do wherein he reveals how little he knows about the life he thinks he's experienced?

Oh, everything else in that category sucked, too. Hoobastank can hooba blow me.

The victory of Maroon 5 in the Best New Artist category just goes to show how white the majority of Grammy voters are. They nominate someone like Kanye West to show how hip they can be to the current direction of popular music, then they give the award to the lame, white misogynists. At least it wasn't the odious Gretchen Wilson and her "I Love Being Pig-Ignorant Dumb!" anthem, or Joss Stone and her childish attempts at being a older black woman. Actually, Grammy usually loves white people co-opting black culture (like Eric Clapton and his tiresome blues albums), so I'm surprised she didn't win. And Los Lonely Boys? Who? Exactly.

When we get into categories with names like "Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal," I start to check out. The Grammy categories are so fine that they become completely meaningless. When do they start introducing categories like "Best Keane Video" or "Best Album Released in the Third Month of the Year by the Second Quarter Moon featuring Vocal, Violin, and Snoop Dogg." What is the point of all this? I'll just make some random observations here:

* U2 winning a Grammy? No way. They should just call their next album Thanks for the Grammys.

* Loretta Lynn deserves the Country Album award, but I still think Jack White is a phony, untalented asshole.

* Why don't they just rename the R&B Album category "Arbitrary Popular Black Artist"?

* They should have retired the Rock Album category in 1978, when rock died.

* "Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys is the most annoying song for over-40s who want to reflect on the emptiness of life and the desperate hope that there is something beyond to make up for that meaninglessness since "Walking in Memphis," "The House of Stone and Light," and anything by Paula Cole.

* I'm glad the classical categories recognized the album of Charles Ives songs. There are several American composers that are not as big a part of our heritage as they should be. Yeah, Mozart was great, but Ives was a genius of deconstructionism.

* "Vertigo" as Best Video? Shouldn't Best Video at least be visually interesting in some way?

And the Grammy winner list just keeps going, and going, and going, until I want to tear my brain out through my mouth. Why anyone cares is beyond me...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

All I do is whine about VH1...

Anyone else watch the Top 20 Countdown this week on VH1? Charisma-challenged Bradford How hung out with Keane at a bowling alley, and magically, Keane was somehow returned to the countdown this week. They were off last week, and this week they were number 18, and no mention was made of this strange return. How much money has Keane's record company spent on having VH1 promote their unique blend of shitty Coldplay rip off music? Seriously, there's no way that Keane could have been on the countdown, seemingly forever, unless someone paid VH1 a lot of money. The VH1 countdown has everything to do with promotion, and nothing to do with actual musical taste.

Seriously, do you know anyone who bought the Keane album? And if they did, were they actually under 40? Male? Do they have taste? I can't imagine the sad person who likes Keane, the lead singer flop sweating over the microphone in an ill-fitting jacket like a terrible Will Forte character on Saturday Night Live, while someone plinks the same two notes into a kiddie piano over and over again. Remember when you used to have to be talented to get recognition? Yeah, me neither.

Anyway, I here they're changing the name of the Top 20 Countdown to the Keane Countdown. Bradford How is apparantly changing his name to Bradford Keane. Tune in and see next week, on VH-Keane.

Sunday Hottie 2


LEELEE SOBIESKI Posted by Hello