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The post-Disney/Marvel merger world…

Is starting to look a lot like the one we knew before it.

* We’ll start with the good news. It’s been a very good summer, money wise, at the movies. In fact, the best ever…well, skyrocketing ticket prices help, but still.

* Nikki Finke might have had 11 updates to her initial post about the purchase, but she’s already moved on to bad blood in the Writers’ Guild election and, of course, her latest snit. This time, she’s furious about a new system of Oscar voting in which voters will name list the films in order of preference, so that a film with a huge number of second choices could beat a nominee with most first choices, if you follow. Typically, Anne Thompson‘s view is more sanguine. Personally, I think it will just underline the Academy’s inherent conservatism in choosing winners. Those of you hoping for “Inglourious Basterds” to be Best Picture were just dealt a serious blow. Since when was being the year’s Best Picture had that much to do with actually winning it?

* Of course, even as a good chunk of L.A. burns — a summertime tradition around these parts — and even our TV and radio transmitters, and the historic Mt. Wilson observatory are threatened, there’s no stopping the fannish speculation from the both the comic book/movie fan crossover world and more established bloggers. Christopher Campbell chronicles both today. Personally, I’m having some second thoughts on my own politically-based negativity about it this morning, though overall media consolidation is a real problem in terms of limiting the “marketplace of ideas.” This is just far from the worst example.

* And, on the heels of this comes talk of another early franchise reboot, this time of the Fantastic Four. Okay, but if they’re really like to save some money and offer mainstream audiences something that will really surprise and delight them, I believe a finished film is still sitting in the can, all ready to go.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Are we excited about “The Descent: Part 2″?

The Descent

Here’s the synopsis taken from the movie’s IMDB page:

The sequel will continue the story of Sarah, who as the only survivor of an all-female caving expedition gone horrifically wrong, suffers severe psychological trauma. Unable to speak, she accompanies a rescue team back to the cave, but events once again take a sinister turn.

THE DESCENT 2 picks up immediately after the events depicted in THE DESCENT Sarah (MacDonald), emerges alone from a cave system following an expedition with her five friends in the Appalachian mountains. Distraught, injured and covered in the blood of her missing companions, Sarah is incoherent and half-wild with fear. Skeptical about her account of events and convinced Sarah’s psychosis hides far darker secrets, Sheriff Vaines forces her back into the caves to help locate the rest of the group. Trapped by falling rocks, the rescue party are driven deep into the caverns, and as one by one the fate of the missing girls is revealed, Sarah is forced to confront her deepest fears.

By the look of the trailer below, the sequel appears to be much more like your standard thriller than the character-driven original. What made the original so great was the underlying tension between the characters of Sarah and Juno. The scares and violent scenes didn’t just shock you, but they each actually contributed to the plot because of the subtext that existed. The original’s writer/director Neil Marshall didn’t have his hand in the creative process of “The Descent: Part 2″, and it shows. I’ll still check it out, but I’m not expecting much. To this day, “The Descent” is only the movie I’ve seen where a good portion of the audience walked out of the theater because of how frightened they were.

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Disney buying Marvel! World as we know it ends! (Updated)

Okay, only the first part is true, but it’s pretty weird as it is — the House of Ideas and the Mouse House are likely to become one. It’s still quite early here on the West coast  and all we have right now are mostly still the raw public facts as reported in the press release which is being carried this morning by Comic Book Resources (CBR), Variety and Nikki Finke.

Unless I’m missing something, the deal involves a massive buy-out of Marvel stockholders to the tune of $4 billion and it still may have to clear some antitrust hurdles. This is obviously my bias talking, but I hope the Obama administration’s regulators take a good look at this deal before allowing it to go through. In my opinion, Disney is already far, far larger than any single media company should be allowed to be. On the other hand, the deal with Marvel is obviously not on the scale of Disney’s past deal with ABC in terms of its size and scope and they aren’t a direct competitor.

Marvel’s real strength is the wealth of characters mostly created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others. If it makes Marvel a healthier enterprise, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. Finke is entirely bullish on the deal and praises Disney head Robert Iger for it, but I’m not sure we share the same exact priorities. We do both wonder if the association with Disney will somehow lower Marvel’s cool-factor among the young geeks. As for antitrust, I’m waiting to hear what the people who actually understand this stuff have to say, but I guess if we allowed the ABC deal to go through, this is nothing.

The word at this point is that Disney will allow it’s currrent licensing and third party deals — including fimmaking ones with the big studios it’s been working with up to now — to stand pat for the time being. It sounds to me, however, like the Mouse House might well be stepping in there at some point and a more recent item from Marketwatch definitely allows for that possibility. It also says that some lesser known Marvel characters might also be hitting silver screen. So, I guess Ant Man and Millie the Model might finally see their name in lights.

All I know for sure is that it’s feels almost like a sign of the geek apocalypse (the “geekalypse”?) to have Spiderman, the X-Men, Iron Man, and the Mighty Thor under the same roof as Mickey, Donald and Winnie the Pooh.  On the other hand, the distance between the Mickey Mouse Club and the Merry Marvel Marching Society might not be all that great in some ways.

UPDATE: Thanks to BKS for sending this NY Times article with more info. A couple of quick lifts: Marvel characters will start popping up at some Disney-owned theme parks fairly soon and Paramount may have the most to lose as Disney gradually brings the Marvel film franchises in-house.

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Mad Men 3.3 – The young folks roll on the little cabin floor

Hi, I’m Bob and I’ll be your guest “Mad Men” blogger for today — and what a day it is. We have work masquerading as parties and parties pretending to be work. (Guess which turns out to be more interesting?) We see the hidden talents and proclivities of the ladies and gents of Sterling Cooper as mind altering substances, liquid and herbal, and good and bad behavior of all sorts rules Derby Day, 1963.

“My Old Kentucky Home” opens with a call back to last week‘s totemization of the hotness that was early sixties Ann Margaret, as Peggy Olson supervises an audition with a red-maned lass who claims to have acted in a production of Tartuffe but who sounds like she’s answering the $64,000 question when she says it was written by “Moliere?”  Harry Crane smiles like a loon and tries to ask more about her, but Peggy makes short work of him.

And it’s Peggy we’re going to be spending a good chunk of tonight learning to admire ever more as she realizes that she is a skilled creative, even if Sterling Cooper “hates creatives.” The cause of all that is a last minute assignment to put together material for a new Bacardi campaign, forcing her, pretentious Paul Kinsey and turtlenecked hipster Smitty to work over the weekend as the higher ups, which now include both Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove, all attend a swank Derby-themed shindig hosted by Roger Sterling and his new young wife, Jane.

Meanwhile, things aren’t easy on the home front. Not yet retired secretary Joan Harris, nee  Holloway, and her new husband, who, er, raped her last season are getting ready for a dinner party for his MD colleagues. The good news is that not even this psychotic can keep Joan under his thumb. As he fearfully tries to bully her — over table settings — he says angrily that he doesn’t want to have a fight, her answer is succinct: “Then stop talking.”

Joan Holloway

Joan is a survivor, no doubt. But before the night is over we learn that her husband may have some potentially serious career problems on top of his obvious violent tendencies — which nevertheless seem under control, just for the present.

Things are only a little less fraught at the home of Don and the now very pregnant Betty Draper. The Drapers are dealing with Betty’s dad, whose slide into dementia seems to be manifesting itself this week as something more like eccentricity, having young Sally read to him from The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which, perhaps fortunately, she doesn’t seem to quite understand).

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Entourage 6.8 – The Sorkin Notes

It was only a matter of time before Doug Ellin and Co. slipped up and delivered a bad episode, but considering it’s taken this far into the season for it to happen, it really isn’t worth getting upset about. Still, not a whole lot went down in tonight’s show, and even worse, the filler portions weren’t very entertaining. The only subplot that did accomplish anything was the one involving Andrew Klein’s midlife crisis, but although fans of Ari were no doubt happy to see Jeremy Piven back after his pseudo-absence on last week’s show, this story is really starting to get on my nerves. Gary Cole may have been a great addition to the back-end of Season Five, but this year, they’ve turned his character into a boring mess.

Now that Marlo has locked him out of the house and frozen his assets, Andrew has started crashing at the office, and Babs has taken notice. With his meeting with Aaron Sorkin set to take place later that day, Babs gives Ari an ultimatum: either Andrew signs Sorkin or he’s gone. Of course, when it’s time for Andrew to prove his worth to the agency by reeling in the big fish, he isn’t there because he’s busy trying to get his notes from his home. When Marlo refuses to let him, and then burns said notes for him to see, Andrew absolutely loses it and drives his car through the house. Not a smart move, as it forces Ari to take the meeting in his place. Sorkin, however, hates Ari’s guts, and refuses to even listen to anything he has to say. So when they discover that Andrew has been sent to county jail, they go to visit him, only for Andrew to miraculously sign Sorkin after telling his lame sob story. I can’t say I was happy about that, though, as it only means Andrew is bound to stick around. This was the perfect time to get rid of his character and allow for Ari to get back to business, but now he’s stuck babysitting Andrew for what looks like the immediate future. Le sigh.

Meanwhile, in Other Subplots That Just Won’t Die, Eric and Sloan get together for drinks to try the whole friendship thing again, only for Eric to suddenly bail on her when Ashley comes crawling back. This whole back and forth between Eric and Sloan was always going to play a big role this season, but what was the point of bringing them together for a few seconds only for them to end up exactly where they were before? If Eric was upset that Sloan can’t decide what she wants, then why did he decide to meet her in the first place? It’s a pretty maddening storyline that I hope gets settled soon, because while I’m sure Eric will end up with Sloan eventually, the writers just need to get them together and be done with it.

The other story of the night focused on Vince’s recent break-in after agreeing to meet with Ari’s security friend (played by Peter Stormare) for a demonstration of his services. There didn’t seem to be much to this plotline except for a chuckle-worthy scene where Drama stood in for Vince during a simulation, but the final scene of the episode did open a few doors for the rest of the season. At first, I was going to criticize the guys for even considering paying the outrageous cost for security (after all, the unwelcome visitor only snagged some underwear), but now that they’ve uncovered a possible identity with the driver’s license of a particularly creepy-looking guy named Curtis Tucker, it might be more serious than we were led to believe. That, or the security guy planted the evidence in order to scare Vince into paying their steep fee. I’ll admit that the former offers a more interesting premise, but don’t count my other theory out just yet.

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True Blood 2.11 – This love gushes from my heart, like a water from a spout

“Is this a bad time?”

You know, for as much as I’ve decried the lack of eroticism inherent in blood, Evan Rachel Wood is so damned sexy that you could almost…not quite, but almost…overlook the fact that her face was covered with the stuff when she made her first appearance this evening. Or maybe it was the other woman moaning in the background that helped make the scenario somehow more sexy than creepy. Whatever the case, it was clear from the get-go that Queen Sophie-Anne LeClerq, Vampire Queen of Louisiana, was not going to be a woman to be trifled with. She knows more than any other vampire we’ve seen, and although we didn’t necessarily see all that much of her power, all we really had to see was the way Bill acted around her to know that, man, she’s got to be off-the-charts powerful. Her comments throughout the episode ranged from funny (“I haven’t enjoyed sex with men since the Eisenhower administration”) to cynical (“Never underestimate the power of blind faith”) to a combination of the mystical and the mystifying (“Everything that exists imagined itself into existence”), but the most telling of her comments came from her complete dismissal of Maryann and her actions. In short, she can’t really be bothered by this creature…or much of anything outside of her own existence, really. Looks like the holier-than-thou manner of royalty remains consistent within both the human and the vampire worlds.

Poor Hoyt. He gets pissy with Jessica for her decision to bite his mother because of her insolent comments, only to have her offer disconcerting revelations about how she’s been longing to head over to Merlotte’s to find herself some manly company, then put the cherry on top of the conversation by destroying everything he ever knew about his father and his noble death.

Poor Tara. She was so chomping at the bit to save Eggs that she basically tried to alienate every single person in the house. My wife theorized that her angry words were due to the approaching mob, but, no, it appears that she was just being incredibly shitty. During her awful heart-to-heart chat with her mama, she did her very best to make her mother feel like complete and total shit…and, yet, Mama responds by playing the sucker and deciding that this is her only possible way to get her daughter back. I don’t blame her for her desperation, but, c’mon, this is Tara’s cousin and best friend. Given everything that had gone down in the previous few hours, did she really think that her daughter knew best?

I can’t imagine that anyone would deny that, if this episode belonged to anyone other than Queen Sophie-Anne, it was the tag-team dumb-ass duo of Jason and Detective Andy. Who would’ve thought that Andy would turn out to be the sensible one of the pair? There were laughs from Sam’s attempts to explain his shapeshifting abilities to them (eventually leading to the discussion later in the episode where Jason tried to work out the most sordid angles of Sam’s powers), from Jason’s dramatic comment about having read about the impending Armageddon in a book (just when you thought he was going to say it was the Bible, he revealed that it was Max Brooks’s “World War Z”), from trumpeting his awesomeness and then promptly running headlong into a tree, and…oh, hell, there were too many laughs to count, but the one that still resonates the most was surely this line.

“‘Sometimes you need to destroy something to save it.’ That’s in the Bible. Or the Constitution.”

God love you, Jason Stackhouse.

The whole sequence within the sheriff’s station was hilarious, though I thought it was a bit cheap to have Andy be wearing kevlar underneath his shirt when he got shot. Still, how can you go wrong with William Sanderson dancing his heart out in his boxers? Their intense discussion in the truck was pretty hilarious in its own right, particularly Jason’s assurance that “I watch a lot of porn to learn stuff,” but the sudden decision to turn this mystical invasion into something patriotic was somehow perfect for these two redneck yokels. The only thing that would’ve made it better would’ve been to have Jason and Andy start singing “God Bless The USA.”

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A “Woodstock” movie moment

Even though Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” isn’t exactly taking the movie world by storm, I thought I’d take the opportunity to present one of the most famed moments from Michael Wadleigh’s documentary, “Woodstock.”

Even though I’m not a fan of lengthy guitar solos in my pop music, there are exceptions — and most of them probably come courtesy of Jimi Hendrix. I’m not sure the appeal here is entirely musical by its nature, but its definitely powerful and historic. Whatever “soul” is, I don’t think any conventional guitar hero ever had half as much as Hendrix did.

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3-D “Final Destination” wins horror franchise battle

The Final Destination

Apparently the lure of bizarre deaths in 3-D was somewhat stronger than more traditional forms of slaughter this weekend. “The Final Destination” won the violent, R-dominated movie derby this weekend and died its way to an estimated $28.3 million for New Line. So says THR/Reuters and Nikki Finke, with Ms. Finke mentioning those 3-D ticket prices as its main advantage against  The Weinstein Company’s latest return to the Michael Myers well, “Halloween 2.” The slasher flick came in at the #3 spot with an estimate of $17.4 million, which actually could have been a lot worse. Judging by the post-release reviews that are trickling in at Rotten Tomatoes, the good will Zombie earned from gore-friendly horror fans on “The Devil’s Rejects” seems to have largely dissipated with this entry. Moreover, Finke’s post and comments are full of remarks on the oddness of facing off two scare-franchises on the same weekend when many students start returning to school. And there’s also the matter of the Weinsteins competing against themselves.

Melanie Laurent
And that brings us to “Inglourious Basterds,” which held well at $20 million on its second weekend, dipping a better-than-average 47% according to Pamela McClintock of Variety, which will no doubt be assuaging whatever disappointment Harvey Weinstein may feel re: “Halloween 2.”  The performance of “Basterds” is pretty magnificent considering last week La Finke and her sources were talking about a huge 70% drop because of the perhaps overestimated returning-to-college factor and, I’m guessing, their prejudice that “Inglourious Basterds” simply can’t possibly be an ongoing moneymaker in the U.S. market.

I caught up with “Basterds” yesterday. I guess it’s no surprise that a Tarantino-positive cinegeek with a heavy retro tendency like myself would hugely enjoy this borderline surrealist World War II opus.  However, it really was something to be in the presence of a very mainstream, semi-surburban cineplex audience rapt with attention during long stretches of subtitled dialogue in a film full of the kind of homages and film references that are supposed to ruin a movie’s chances. Proving, I suppose, the power of stories and characterization to overcome an audience’s prejudices, if not the cynical preconceptions of those inside the Hollywood bubble. Of course, it’s just easier to blow things up to please a young and male audience, and Tarantino does that, too. So there’s your formula. The other well-reviewed violent genre actioner, “District 9,” held on as well in its fourth week with an estimated $10.7 million.

Taking Woodstock Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” was pretty much a bust. It did even less well than I guessed Friday and made only an approximate $3.7 million, though in fewer theaters than the other major releases. To echo myself, fare aimed at older audiences needs favorable reviews and/or buzz to really succeed, and the mild reaction to this fact-based comedy apparently wasn’t cutting it. Even so, this film probably should have started out with an arthouse release.

Speaking of the arthouse circuit, as often happens specialty fare hosted the biggest per screen averages of the week. The documentary “The September Issue” featuring Vogue editor Anna Wintour did smashing business in its first weekend in six New York theaters, with some $40,000 per screen according to Box Office Mojo. Presumably every fashionista in the area turned up to see what I guess might be marketed as the real life version of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Not quite as great, but still at least as strong as a stocky sports geek’s headbutt, was the Bullz-Eye/PH approved “Big Fan,” which did a healthy $13,000 on each of its two coastal screens this weekend.

Patton Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan in

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And while I’m promoting seventies exploitation homages, I should push one I’m actually in (and maybe some day I’ll get some lines in something).

, a very tasteful, R-rated tribute to women-in-prison films of yore from the mind of underground cinema genius and complete-stranger-to-me Cody Jarrett, premieres at midnight, a week from tonight at L.A. Sunset Five theaters. For more on the movie and the premiere, details are here. Genuine, certified no-prizes for anyone who spots me in the very cool and moderately NSFW trailer below. At least one more plug to come.

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Shortly after Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939, Hitler’s enemy, Josef Stalin, undertook the slaughter of of some 22,000 Polish officers, police, and civilian POWs in what amounted to an attempted liquidation of the nation’s intelligentsia. (By law, all Polish university graduates become reserve officers.) One of the murdered officers was the father of Andrej Wajda – now in his mid-eighties, a veteran member of the Solidarity labor movement and universally regarded as his country’s greatest director.

Wajda has spent his career dealing with the impact of both Nazi and Stalinist oppression on his homeland, but this is the first time he’s taken on the moment that must have started his lifelong commitment to justice and freedom. This complex, concise epic eventually takes the form of a sort of a mass murder anti-mystery as we follow numerous family members who must fight official lies, propaganda, and counter-propaganda to learn the fate of their loved ones and honor their memories. Though the large number of players can be somewhat confusing at times and Wajda’s style might seem somewhat oblique, this is an inevitably grim but compelling and deeply heartfelt reminder that both world wars and psychotic tyrants have far more victims than the world has memory. The brutal final moments of this film ensure that no one watching will forget this particularly massacre, however.

Click to buy “Katyn”

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