Saturday, January 06, 2007

Making Movies for the Faithful

A curious pedigree for the newly released movie "Thr3e", a thriller about serial killers and theology. The movie is the newest production from Fox Faith, a Christian-themed distribution arm of 20th Century Fox. I mean talk about niche marketing. Is there an evangelical audience yearning for movies of murder and mayhem with religious overtones?

The reviews are pretty harsh for this movie. And perhaps it's best to say that given it's title, it's about half as good as the other number-titled serial killer movie with religious overtones - "Seven".

As for Fox Faith - with the tagline "Movies you can believe in" - it seems a really cynical marketing ploy. But so far, returns and promotions of their films are pretty thin. And for studio execs, I have some much needed info for you -- by their very nature, the majority of thrillers and horror tales usually have the structure of a morality play already.

And good luck getting the web site for Fox Faith to load. The fact is, there has been a surge of sorts in what's called "Christian Retailing." The phrase seems oddly contradictory to me.

Some background and details about what's really the focus here -- profits and not prophets:

The Weinstein Co. recently struck a deal with Impact Productions, a Christian company, to finance, coproduce and distribute its films. FoxFaith, a new division of 20 th Century Fox that caters to the faithbased market, will release at least six religion-themed films this year, said Steve Feldstein, senior vice president of corporate and marketing communications for Fox Home Entertainment.

Good News Holdings, a Christian multimedia company, acquired film rights to Anne Rice’s best-selling novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt for a tentative December release. The company, which plans to make the film on an estimated budget of $40 million, is also developing a series of Christian-themed horror movies, according to its Web site.

"There’s a huge untapped marketplace out there that is interested in films that reflect their values," Feldstein said.

To promote its religious titles, Fox has strung together a network of 90,000 churches, ministries and Christian groups nationwide, Feldstein said.

He added that the company isn’t looking to spread Christian values. Rather, it hopes to gain access to an underserved and lucrative niche market.

According to CBA, an evangelical Christian trade group, the Christian market is a $4.2 billion industry."

Last weekend I happened to see an old 1950s entry called "Red Planet Mars," where it turns out that God is broadcasting messages from Mars to Earth. The very sincere and talky movie also has a subplot involving Communists trying to overwhelm the Mars to Earth Message Pipeline. Strange as it sounds, the movie, I had to admit, was fascinating to watch. And the ending was curiously violent, to say the least. It certainly is a layered story about a search for intelligent signs in the Universe, but I thought you didn't need a high-tech radio set-up to talk to God.

The script here is by legendary horror and fantasy writer John Balderston, who penned both the 1930s era play "Red Planet Mars" and the movie script. Balderston also created the plays/scripts for "Dracula", "Frankenstein," "The Mummy" and more for Universal.

It still ranks as the only Sci-Fi-Communist-Christian movie ever made. But perhaps Fox Faith or some of these other new production companies will correct that. This new crop of movies is not the first time Hollywood has tried this type of filmmaking and marketing. History has shown, that so far, it's an approach that has failed financially.

Perhaps the worldwide religious fervor of the 21st century will be more profitable, but will audiences convert to such marketing ploys?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Camera Obscura - Best Movies of 2006; Who Is Uwe Boll; Movie News

A top movies of 2006 list is as easy to find as a bluegrass musician in Tennessee. As one friend says, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one.

Last week I offered my picks for the movies I liked the best in 2006, though many were made in previous years, and I tend to see more these days on DVD. So this week, a peek at who will win Oscar nominations, a bona fide list of excellence in horror movies on DVD, and much more juicy and tasty takes on the world 'o movies. Read on!

The nominations from the Producer's Guild point to heavy-duty Oscar contenders - but missing is poor Clint Eastwood. Will the five movies picked by producers be the nominees for Best Picture? I imagine "Babel" will drop off the list, but I think the solid contenders are "The Departed," "The Queen", and "Dreamgirls". Their list is here.


Once again, I truly like the selections and opinions offered on horror movies via DVDStalk. They note the best horror on DVD releases from 2006, and they make some great selections, many of which I too have mentioned. One I did not mention, since I only saw the DVD was available last week is the deeply underrated "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" from creator/director Tobe Hooper. Aiming for comedy but still keeping the terror at high levels, the movie scores big with Bill Mosley and Dennis Hopper, a kicking soundtrack, and Hooper's goofy nightmare amusement park. And that opening scene will take yer head off!

Their pick for the best horror on DVD of 2006 - "The Descent". On my list to see this week, the movie gets truly high praise from all the fans and critics alike. And I do mean praise:

I'm telling you - horror freak to horror freak - The Descent is my favorite film of 2006 and easily one of the best horror films of the last ten years. I said it before, and I'll say it again - this is a must see film for any discerning horror fan."


Two new DVD releases make my mouth water -- both Season One and Two of the David Lynch TV series "Twin Peaks." Loaded with honest-to-pete extras and commentary, this was too long in arriving. Now the bad news -- not all the episodes are here!! For some reason, Warner's will not give the OK to release the 2-hour pilot on DVD. That is just stupid.

Me? I am one of the lucky ones - I have a commercial free copy of the pilot on VHS which ABC sent me in advance to review just before the show hit television and made history. Friends will confirm I eagerly took the tape to many many homes preaching the Gospel of it's Goodness.

The good news about the boxed sets: it arrives with a removable pic of the doomed Laura Palmer and the set is wrapped in plastic, just like Laura. Heh heh.


"I'm Christian Slater - Paranormal Detective"

That should have been the title of the truly godawful movie "Alone In The Dark" from heinous and infamous director Uwe Boll. I've tried at least 8 times to watch the entire movie and failed each time. Which means it does rank in my book as a movie so bad, it should carry FDA warnings. And yes, I keep saying "that's because I'm Christian Slater - Paranormal Detective" every time Slater speaks.

The movie may be the (so far) masterpiece of awful from Boll -- who is planning a sequel. And people from all walks of life really hate the man. Last summer, he challenged his critics to face him in a boxing ring. The results were surreal. How long will it be before someone makes a movie about Boll, rightly termed the Ed Wood of the 21st Century?

Truth is, I have never been able to watch an entire Boll film. "BloodRayne" (which he has now mapped out as a trilogy) is another choice entry of awful. What is stunning is how the actors involved - Ben Kingsley, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Madsen - NEVER look at the camera, though you know they want to, with a look that says "Help Me!" They exhibit what's known in the biz as "Take the money and walk away ... quickly."

With the $60 million budget (??!!!??) for "Dungeon Siege" (Burt Reynolds?), Boll will surely lay claim to the throne as Worst Director in World History.

Words will never capture the discomfort his movies create in a viewer. Or the boredom. My advice, however, for an excellent time, is to get one or two of his movies, gather your friends, and make up your own running dialog as you watch. That, my friends, is deeply entertaining!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why Wii Is More Popular Than The PS3

Courtesy of the minds at G4.

Very Unscientific Survey on New Congress

For the first time the U.S. House of Representatives has a woman as Speaker - number two in line of succession to the presidency. She easily has the toughest job in American politics today, though President Bush may be a close second in the tough job category - can he prove his policies and programs have relevance? A question for you, dear readers, follows.

The Democrats elected Pelosi by a slim margin of 29 votes to the leadership position. Democrats are pushing for an ambitious agenda for the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress. Here is a summary of their plans:

* Good Government: Cutting off lobbyist gifts and restoring fairness and transparency in the way laws are passed

* Fiscal Responsibility: Stop recklessly driving up the national debt

* National Security: Implement all of the 9/11 Commission security recommendations

* Fighting Poverty: Increase minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, helping 15 million working families

* Health Research: Increased funding and availability for stem cell research

* Affordable Health Care: Negotiate for lower prices on prescription drugs, passing savings on to seniors

* Education Access: Cut interest on federal student loans in half

* Clean Energy: Cut oil company subsidies and invest in safe alternatives

And you can go here for a more detailed account.


How much - if any - of these legislative plans will be adopted?

Useful Confusion With Hired Interrogators

There is a very convenient confusion available to military forces since the military uses contractors for "intelligence" and "interrogation".

As mentioned in my post yesterday, the use of contractors throughout military operations has been a central part of the Bush administration's policy and strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. A report in today's Washington Post cites an FBI investigation into events at Guantanamo Bay prisons, again noting the activities of these contractors. Allegations of abuse however, are difficult to confirm in the murky rules of chain of command:

The disclosures, which are based on a 2004 survey of FBI personnel, do not mention which company employed the contractors at Guantanamo. Many of the incidents dated to 2002, but it could not be learned yesterday what company held the contract for some of that time. In November 2002, Affiliated Computer Systems was awarded a contract to supply 30 intelligence analysts and 15 to 20 interrogators and strategic debriefers to Guantanamo. ACS was acquired by Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's largest contractor, in 2003."

"The allegations are reminiscent in certain respects to charges of mistreatment at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. There, too, contractors who supplied interrogation services were allegedly involved, and some U.S. military personnel said they had mistreated detainees under orders from contractors.

The U.S. attorney's office was assigned to investigate contractor behavior at Abu Ghraib, but no charges have been filed."

Confusion creates opportunities - and cover - for abuse.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In The Future, I Can Talk About The Banana In The Sky

I would hope very much that in the year 2030, I am here at the ripe young age of 90, being sought out by reporters and historians as one of the many folks living in the 21st century yet born in the 20th.


So I can say things like, "I remember when the idea of a geostationary banana over Texas was just a dream."

Private Police and Anti-Terrorist Training for Malls

It's hard not to notice the rising numbers of private police companies over the last few decades but until I read the report from the Washington Post, I had no idea these private companies and their forces were a booming business.

What is new is that police forces, including the Durham Police Department here in North Carolina's Research Triangle, are increasingly turning to private companies for help. Moreover, private-sector security is expanding into spheres -- complex criminal investigations and patrols of downtown districts and residential neighborhoods -- that used to be the province of law enforcement agencies alone.

The more than 1 million contract security officers, and an equal number of guards estimated to work directly for U.S. corporations, dwarf the nearly 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States. The enormous Wackenhut Corp. guards the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and screens visitors to the Statue of Liberty.

"You can see the public police becoming like the public health system," said Thomas M. Seamon, a former deputy police commissioner for Philadelphia who is president of Hallcrest Systems Inc., a leading security consultant. "It's basically, the government provides a certain base level. If you want more than that, you pay for it yourself."

Today the WaPo had another story about how shopping mall security officers were being given anti-terrorist training.

The job of a shopping mall security guard normally involves controlling rowdy teenagers, finding lost children and patrolling parking lots. But starting this month, malls across the country will begin training guards for another task: fighting terrorism.

The 14-hour program is being developed by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group, and the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University at a cost of $2 million. It is the first standardized anti-terrorism curriculum written for the nation's estimated 20,000 mall security guards."

Seems clear that the trend for privatizing government is taking us to some new places.

Since private companies also operate prisons, one wonders if soon we can free up a lot of court time and let private companies handle any and all problematic populations.

The Bush administration has truly endorsed (with over 100,000 contractors) this type of change since they handed off chores of both protection of public and private facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and operations like interrogation to private firms, so the financial rewards continue to grow.

The wisdom of such changes -- unknown.

Using Thomas Jefferson's Copy of the Koran

Irony of the Week Award goes to newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison for his savvy response to some rather heated and mean-spirited taunts from Congressman Virgil Goode.

Goode's remarks made headlines and filled blogs as he wailed and moaned in fearful squirming that Ellison, a Muslim, would be taking his oath to office in an unofficial ceremony using a Koran. The law is rather specific that legislators swear to uphold the Constitution - but there is no requirement that oath be taken with hands laid on a religious book. But most congressman do hold private ceremonies where they do lay hands on a religious book.

After much public hysteria, Ellison truly gets the last word on this idiotic tirade, He decided to use a copy of the Koran once owned and notated by Thomas Jefferson.. Goode's eyeballs/jaw hit the floor, especially since he represents the district in which Jefferson was born.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reviewing Blogs and 'Blog Wars'

Understanding an experience happens when it has passed, usually, though not always.

People in general and the current news media in particular are grappling with the question of a blog, what is and isn't and who are these darn bloggers anyway?

Last week I mentioned the broadcast of a documentary called "Blog Wars," and CE Petro has a fine write-up on the where the documentary failed and succeded. For me, the most interesting part of the doc was a comment from writer/blogger Andrew Sullivan, who said that blogging is incredibly liberating - to be able to write and publish on a worldwide scale without any editors or publishers or owners peeking over your shoulder. It is an experiment

I expect in coming years (or less) attempts to regulate blogs will markedly increase, even as the medium is still creating itself. Such unfettered freedom of expression is frightening to many.

The function and the form of a blog is solely determined by it's writer and/or creator. BusyMom noted yesterday a debate on whether or not a blog is a blog if it has no comments or discussions.

Old-fashioned print and broadcast media are confused and appalled by bloggers, though no so much as to dismiss them (if they are smart). More and more, the old guard is working hard to stay viable and useful on the internet.

More than once, one or two anonymous commenters here have chided me and this page, wanting to know why I didn't make this page, this blog, behave in a way they thought was best. Well, oh anonymous ones, this blog is not called "The News From _________ " and for good reason. A reader here can read news and news reports about the local area, the state, the region, the nation and even the world - but that's only part of the equation.

A reader here can easily discover after reading a few posts that the topics I write about will be on anything I want.

That's why it's called "Cup of Joe Powell" -- whatever is in my thoughts or whatever I discover reading any and all kinds of other web sites will end up here. Unlike a traditional print or broadcast outlet -- the object here isn't making money, making sales, expanding subscribers or viewers. The topics here are on my opinions, my views, sometimes well-written, sometimes just a link, sometimes all that you'll find here will be just as odd as I am.

News can be found here - and you can scan through all the links on this page to read the news, just as many of the links here are to blogs offering the views and thoughts of other bloggers. Some of that is news-oriented and some isn't. Some links are even (gasp!) blogs about blogs!!

Confusing to some, yes. Experimental at times, yes. This entire blogging deal, folks, is ever-changing. As 2007 gets going, you'll find new links being added and will likely see some layout changes here too.

Perhaps the best way to explain all this is to say that I often spend more time reading other sites of information than I do writing. Some days will bring many posts - some days none. Other opinons and comments are always welcome here as long as you have bothered to actually read what has been written about and as long as ya don't get nasty or insulting. If you find after reading here that I am nasty or insulting then my advice is to move on and do not come back. Admittedly, I will leave comments on many other blog sites expressing my doubts about what they write or my support. I don't expect my comments will change the writer's mind - I like debating/sharing information. It's a learning process for me.

I do know this - I have read and seen far more open debate, far more information, far more news, far more entertainment via the internet and blogs and web-sites that I ever saw via the old-fashioned media. The blogosphere seems to me to be populated by intense and informed readers and writers. In my view, that is incredibly beneficial to all.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Times Square Cam and The Top 25 Cams of 2006

Watch the gathering crowds and keep your eyes on a 16 live web cams in Times Square and around the nation via the EarthCam website.

And, they also have released their top 25 web cams of 2006. I like the monkey cam the best myself, but there are also roaches, tigers and Key West too. Although it looks like all their links are redirecting you to the Times Square page at least until tomorrow.

But who know? Maybe their will be monkeys in Times Square!

A Protest Against The Year 2007

A group has organized in France to protest 2007. They don't want it - no new year, no more years period, and ultimately an end to Time itself.

The group calls itself Fonacon and declared:

The members of the anti-New Year front, including several otherwise conventional local businessmen and women, dressed up in hoods and masks.

"It is about time that the passage of time ended," said one of the hooded organisers. "We are fed up with getting older. Why should we follow the fashion? The planet is getting older and warmer. Not us. Stop this mad race towards death."

Certainly seems to be a growing problem and resentment with any and all holiday observances, with what they are called and why and how they are observed. I suppose it was inevitable that once there was a "War on Christmas", then why not a War on Time?

Time is an issue for us all, yes. Various cultures say we are on the edge of the year 2007, others say Jan. 1, 2007 is actually Tevet the 11th, 5767 and some say we are currently in the year 4704.

Time could be stopped - but then what do we do? Einstein seems right in saying that the reason we have time is so that everything doesn't happen at once - though I must admit that the more I have traveled through Time, the more it does seem to all happen at once anyway. And I've read enough science-fiction to know that stopping Time usually brings bad results. I mean, somewhere there is an official Atomic Clock and if Time stopped, then I suppose everything would go boom.

I've heard it said that someone is "living in the past" or "living for today", so perception seems to be the key to time. At least that's the way I see it.

One of the most ominous phrases I have ever heard is "There is no Time like the present." That just gives me the creeps.

Perhaps Groucho Marx said it best - "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."