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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

'American Sniper' - A Dose of Reality

'American Sniper' has really hit a cord with moviegoers and points to the fact that mainstream news media is essentially out-of-touch with the greater American public- as the media has poo-pooed the movie.
Eastwood and Cooper on set

'American Sniper' has grossed over $252 million since it opening on Christmas Day and the numbers keep growing. It is by far the most successful military film ever exhibited. The story-line (just in case you have been in a coma over the last several weeks) centers around a real-life sniper who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - Chris Kyle.  The movie is based upon Kyle's best selling autobiography of the same name, in which he recounts his military career and experience - the film rights to the book were purchased by Clint Eastwood, who directed the movie. It stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle.

Kyle was a highly decorated Navy Seal who was awarded two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a slue of other accommodations and was officially credited with 160 sniper kills with an unconfirmed total of 255.

But why has this film become so popular. My feeling is that this film puts modern warfare in perspective - which is impersonal and distant.  The film depicts Kyle doing his sniper work while talking to his wife on the phone - bizarre but not, I'm told, unrealistic with today's technology.  Kyle, unfortunately, was killed at a Texas shooting range in 2013 by Eddie Routh, an ex-Marine Kyle had befriended. No reason has been put forth for the killing but Routh is scheduled to go to trial this February.
Kyle with his bio. and in action

I believe the day of the lone sniper is over. Technology in the form of drones and computerized long-range rifles where only coordinates and wind speed data are required and the weapon does the rest with pinpoint accuracy is already here.   In the world of new warfare, a Chris Kyle simply wouldn't be required.  Waging war has become extremely complex but, paradoxically,  requires fewer and fewer people to wage. The U.S. doesn't need to win wars just engage.
If you enjoy war movies with a message 'American Sniper' is for you.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Oscar: Meaningful Accolade or Moviegoer Insult

Moviegoers care less and less about the Oscars, which have become no more than a run-way fashion show than meaningful movie tribute.

The public just doesn't care about the Oscars and I'm one of them. Why? Because the Oscars are an inside Hollywood game and have nothing to do with films that people go to the cinema to view.  The Oscars are about insider prestige, vanity, and phony tribute to the 'art form' of moviemaking.

Hollywood thrives on money - period! Yet at Oscar time, the money driven tinsel-town folks would have us believe that, miraculously, money is not an issue and vote for the most insipid, message movies they can muster and this year the mustering had slim-pick'ns.  Movies that shouldn't get a passing nod were bestowed with huge gobs of fanfare and awe. "Birdman" and "Grand Budapest Hotel" each got nine nominations - are you kidding me! And don't get me started on Streep. She turns up every year like a bad penny or perennial weed, this year for her 19th nomination. What the hell do they take us for - zombies.

The Academy is essentially made up of grumpy old men (94% men, average age - 62) who seemingly have no clue as to what is best to view on the big screen. In short, the Oscars have become an insult to the moviegoer.  All eight of the nominated Best Pictures (at nomination time) had grossed a paltry $203 million vs. even last year when the nominees were at $649 million. Hardly anyone viewed this year's crop of Best Pictures and don't care about viewing them even after their nominations.

The current President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs says "the Academy needs more diversity". After the nominees were announced she stated further,"obviously reflects a lack of diversity in Oscar voters as well as in films generally".  But Isaacs is speaking to the make-up of the Academy and not diversity in film selection, as we are.
However, she can start making changes by changing the name of this group. An Academy is a place of higher learning that promotes a set of standards - not the 7,000 member strong Academy hoi poloi that is referred to as 'the industry's shakers and movers'.

Harris to emcee Oscars
Get serious. Hollywood is anything but a brotherhood of fair and free-thinking compatriots. Gentile and artistic minded folks hell bent on preserving film's historic and artistic milieu. Nonsense.
The best movies are the ones that make the most money, that people go to the cinema to view and be entertained by. They have the biggest budgets, best actors, scripts, effects, sound, direction and right now (at this moment in history) it's the high-impact, action films that dominate the cinema - like it or not.  Right now, it is not the throw-back, weak-storied dramas that have zero impact and are viewed only by a few in the pseudo-intellectual crowd, who fancy themselves 'cinema buffs' or (God forbid) 'aficionados'.

The Oscars have become a 'bore', a meaningless relic, with no connection with today's moviegoer and unworthy of our attention. The Oscars only redeeming value is the pre-show run-way where Hollywood's glam-gals strut with borrowed gowns and jewelry and become our very own Cinderellas for the evening.

The Oscar Awards will take place on February 22nd starting at 7pm EST and be hosted by Neil Patrick (Doogie Howser) Harris.  The Academy can't even get a big name to host the event. No chance of getting the likes of a Hope, Carson, Crystal, or Leno.

Just saying,

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The SCENE by Seymore Flix - 7 Jan. '15

Virtual Reality (VR) - It's Here - But Not Really

You have probably heard or read something about Oculus Rift, the much hyped VR headset that is going to turn digitally-based games and entertainment into a virtual life experience.  In fact, Facebook (which purchased Oculus Rift for a tiddy $2 billion) is betting that this technology is the next coming in the digital domain.
Oculus Rift Headset w/headphones

The Oculus Rift is a headset device which provides a 360 degree visual of 'whatever'. It has moved, since its intro two years ago, from a status of novelty to mainstream. "I knew that virtual reality would become important to the public at some point, but I thought it would take a much longer time", Rift founder, Palmer Luckey told CMG. "I did not take into account the fact that unlike some new technologies, VR is already an established concept."

All that said, it now appears that Facebook won't have a monopoly on VR. Google is planning to ship 500,000 units of its $45 Cardboard VR headset (it is literally made out of cardboard).  Samsung, not far behind, has a forthcoming $200 Gear VR.  Rift will be priced in the $200 - 400 range upon its release.  Price will be a determining factor as will reliability and ease of use but the technology must also have 'scale' - which means that it is being widely accepted by consumers which then draws in advertisers.
Google's Cardboard VR Headset

A recent survey by market research firm Deep Focus, reported that 51% of young adults (21-34) had heard of Oculus Rift and other VR devices, but the key driver to success will be the tie-in with video games.  Gaming will be the gateway to wide adoption of VR devices.  More VR headsets on faces will push more content - it's another chicken and egg situation, and VR content is expensive to produce - a 3 minute video is over $1 million.

My take is that VR will have a very steep adoption curve but in the long run could be used for many types of marketing by many different companies.  The virtual sense of being somewhere or in someplace is very powerful.  It brings the image to life that no regular video or screen can - it is immersive but yet confining as you have to wear a large headset (at least for now).

Seymore Flix

Sunday, January 04, 2015

It's a Wrap - 2014 Box Office A Mixed Bag

As expected, and as the 15 year trend continues, the '14 box office was dominated by high-impact, action films of fantasy and super heroes which reigned supreme.
'Transformers' takes #1 spot in 2014

At $10.4 billion, the U.S. box office was down 5% from '13's record-breaking total, which some believe may be an omen of things to come, as perhaps the world's most demanding moviegoers are tiring of the 'same old'.  In contract, the international cinema box office is booming, particularly China.

'Transformers: Age of Extinction' was the #1 global box office draw, amassing a take of over $1.9 billion which beat, to a pulp, the last Transformer movie, 'Dark of the Moon' (2011) by over $800 million.  The fourth film in the Transformer saga, Age of Extinction, was the only movie released in 2014 that grossed over $1 billion.

Other sequels did well. Captain America, Spider Man, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How To Train Your Dragon 2, and Rio 2 faired pretty well.  However, two new entrants came in #2 and #3 after Transformers, 'Guardians of the Galaxy' ($773 million) and 'Maleficent' ($758 million) both now considered future franchise material.

In summary, Hollywood disappointed moviegoers in '14 all of which was capped by Sony's North Korean mess whose security hack is now being reported as an inside job.  It may be that tastes in movies are changing as evidenced by Universal's announcement that it experienced it most profitable year ever in 2014 without one box office bruiser and no release which cost more than $70 million. If this was planned by Universal or just circumstance makes no difference as it may be trend setting - but I don't think so.  2014 was just not the year for blockbusters. Universal will release 'Fast and Furious 7', 'Jurassic World', 'Minions', and 'Ted 2' in 2015, accompanied by a slew of Marvel and DC Comics based flix and a new 'Star Wars' for Disney.  It's back to the races in '15.

                                                Top 12 Global Box Office Earners 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction - $1.9 billion (77% intl', 23% U.S.)
Guardians of the Galaxy - $773 million (57% intl', 43% U.S.)
Maleficent - $758 million (68% intl', 32% U.S.)
X-Men: Days of Future Past - $746 million (69% intl', 31% U.S.)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - $714 million (64% intl', 36% U.S.)
The Amazing Spider - Man 2 - $709 million (71% intl', 29% U.S.)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - $708 million (71% intl', 29% U.S.)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 - $670 million (54% intl', 46% U.S.)
Interstellar - $641 million (72% intl'. 28% U.S.)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 - $619 million (71% intl'. 29% U.S.)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - $573 (71% intl'. 29% U.S.)
Godzilla - $525 million (62% intl', 38% U.S.)

All 12 were fantasy or superhero movies with high levels of action and special effects. - that's what moviegoers want!