Tag: Animal House

Hanging with the new flesh

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“Your reality is already half video hallucination. If you’re not careful, it will become total hallucination. You’ll have to learn to live in a very strange new world.” – Media philosopher Brian O’Blivion in David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983)

So far, the bulk of gifted documentarian Ondi Timoner’s work has dealt with the forces that persuade human beings to give up some part of themselves, whether it be in pursuit of creative growth, God, or fame. Her latest film, takes that as far as it can possibly go. Unlike her remarkable “DiG!,” about the cultish neo-psychedelic rock band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, or “Join Us,” about an actual religious cult, this time the cult is not just a few fanatics, it’s you and me.

I first praised the Sundance Grand Jury prize-winning “We Live in Public,” opening Friday at L.A.’s Nuart Theater (with special Q&As Friday and Saturday nights), back in June when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The screening was capped off with the then somewhat surprising appearance by the documentary’s antihero, Internet entrepreneur and self-styled conceptual artist Josh Harris. Having returned from an idyll in Ethiopia, he said that his next project was something he called “the Wired City” and that, in his view, a typical human’s life in the future is going to be something like the present day existence of “a Purdue chicken.” He also said he hadn’t seen the movie and wasn’t sure when he would.

Back in the 1990’s, Harris made a large fortune largely by being one of the first to see the full communications potential of the web and was a dot-com era sensation via his groundbreaking web entertainment company, Pseudo. Leaving that when his eccentric and creative side grew to be too artsy and weird for the corporate room, he then spent a good chunk of that fortune on two highly provocative experiments/art projects.

We Live in PublicFirst came “Quiet” – basically a month-long party/community in an underground compound on the west side of New York with overt fascistic overtones. Harris recruited roughly 100 artists and creative types to live there 24/7 for an indefinite period (it turned out to be a month). He would provide all the food, (legal) party favors, a firing range and plenty of weaponry (blanks only, I’m told), as well as a fake church and real interrogation tactics borrowed from the Cold War-era East German secret police.

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“The Hangover” Needs No Box Office Cure (Updated)

The first sign I received was an e-mail from a friend (more of a civilian than a ravening cinephile like yours truly) raving about the “The Hangover.” After a response from me that I’d already written that the picture seemed like a possible sleeper, he mentioned that he saw it with a healthy sized crowd for a relatively early show, but by the time he exited at about 8:30 or so, the theater staff at the Northern California multiplex was announcing the comedy was sold out for the entire night.

Then, going on my morning blog/pub patrol, I found that Nikki Finke and THR (and I’m sure Variety too, but do you really need a third source for the same info?) are abuzz with reports that the modest, R-rated comedy earned a cool $16.5 million yesterday. It defeated not only “Land of the Lost,” which unsurprisingly ran a mediocre-at-best third in the wake of a lot of negative buzz, but far more surprisingly, the beloved (but perhaps a bit family friendly for a Friday night) “Up.” And it did it with a starless cast of actors, who would ordinarily be in supporting roles in a film like this.

Once upon a time, my friends, even the big studios occasionally lowered their financial risk for slightly off-kilter projects by populating them with relative unknowns. Major ensemble-comedy releases like “American Graffitti,” “M*A*S*H,” or “Animal House” could make superstars, rather than simply relying on already huge names to fill every seat on the very first night. Of course, this was back when movies initially opened in a small number of theaters in large cities, with gradually expanding releases that allowed time for word of mouth to spread. The meant that not every film was expected to be as pre-sold as a Big Mac.

It’s still possible that “Up” will stage a comeback with families hitting the screens today and tomorrow, but “The Hangover” is now a verifiable sleeper hit and concerns that the appearance of Mike Tyson might backfire because of his recent extremely sad family tragedy seem to be more or less baseless. (Eternal interest in gossip notwithstanding, maybe the general audience is a bit less emotionally wrapped up in the personal lives of celebrities than you’d think.)

It’s nice to see that, even in today’s truly hostile and originality-killing marketplace, Pixar isn’t the only place where filmmakers make a star-free killing by simply entertaining an audience. (And folks, if you can’t get in to see “The Hangover” tonight, consider another film that’s a bit of a throwback to a less calculating Hollywood, “Drag Me to Hell.”)

UPDATE: I forgot to add that my friend also mentioned something I’d somehow missed — that the early reaction to “The Hangover” was so strong that Warners was already publicly discussing a sequel even before the release of the film. I think it’s safe to say that there are some very happy agents in Hollywood right now. One thing is certain, “The Hangover II” will be more expensive than the first.

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