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<p>Viola Davis at last month's Academy Awards ceremony.</p>

Viola Davis at last month's Academy Awards ceremony.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Viola Davis settles into leading-lady status

'The Help' star keeps her eye on the prize with a Barbara Jordan biopic

It'd be difficult to list every aspect of the recent McG atrocity "This Means War" that killed off a tiny inner part of me: between its creepily candid misogyny, casual xenophobia, apparent miscasting by Magic 8-Ball and every utterance by Chelsea Handler, we're still only in the introductory stage. But few things about this veritable feast of failure dismayed me quite as much as the appearance (it'd be a stretch to call it a performance) of Angela Bassett as a CIA commander.

Stomping sporadically into the frame to bark orders at Tom Hardy and Chris Pine with her typically impeccable e-nun-ci-a-tion with not so much as an expression or character trait going spare, it's the kind of thanklessly robotic grunt work any uninformed viewer would be astonished to discover is being delivered by an esteemed, Academy Award-nominated actor -- and comes less than a year after she was last spotted in an identically sexless non-role as Stentorian Boss Type in "Green Lantern." It's dispiriting to see any decent actor in parts this perfunctory and ill-conceived; for one of the most gifted and beautiful actresses of her generation, it's positively mortifying.

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Listen: Jack White licks his fingers on 'Sixteen Saltines'
Credit: Columbia Records

Listen: Jack White licks his fingers on 'Sixteen Saltines'

Second song arrives from 'Blunderbuss'

If the first two songs we’re hearing are any indication, Jack White’s solo album, “Blunderbuss,” will be all over the place.

Today, White began streaming “Sixteen Saltines” on his website. He debuted the song on “Saturday Night Live” a few weeks ago, but that was a bit of a loud mess. The recorded version is also very loud, but hardly a mess. It’s a batch of glam, rock, blues, and Jack White’s special sauce. And it goes hard.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>The now infamous giant white ape &quot;John Carter&quot;&nbsp;billboards.</p>

The now infamous giant white ape "John Carter" billboards.

What went wrong with 'John Carter'?

How did Disney end up with one of the biggest bombs of all time on their hands?

There will no doubt be a lot of finger pointing on the Disney lot over the next couple of weeks about what exactly went wrong with the release of potential tent pole "John Carter" this weekend.  Of course, anyone with a clue in the Mouse House knew they were battling a losing cause for weeks (if not months) and only the miracle of unexpectedly positive reviews (which didn't happen) or over the top international grosses (well, there's Russia at least) could help the project break even.  What's most distressing about the entire situation is that if you were to step back a big screen version of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original "Princess of Mars" novel should make an intriguing film for a broad audience.  So much so that filmmakers such as John McTiernan, Jon Favreau and Robert Rodriguez were all attached to direct movies based on the material over the past 30 years.  And yet, even with Oscar-winning Pixar legend Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") passionate about bringing his childhood inspiration to life, "John Carter" is now a name that will live on in Hollywood infamy.

Make the movie first, then determine if there is a brand
From a strategic standpoint, CEO Bob Iger's intention to focus on films that have the potential to be lucrative brands that generate profits outside of the initial film release has merit.  In fact, Disney may have lost money on the hand drawn animated feature "Winnie the Pooh" last year, but they more than made up for it by reviving the company's merchandising around A.A. Milne's creations.  And yet, outside of the already established "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, the studios efforts so far have mostly fallen flat.  "The Muppets" is deemed a success by its $88 million domestic gross, but the marketing was so generic it likely hurt the film's box office prospects (how could a family film with such glorious reviews and multi-generational appeal gross under $100 million during the holidays?). The studio let Stanton make his own movie (more on that next), but from a marketing perspective they looked at it as a brand first and not a movie.  That may work in television or other entertainment arenas, but not so much in the movie business.  From the first teaser trailer to the first poster to the outdoor advertising to the final poster and almost every piece of marketing material in-between, too much of the "Cater" campaign was fashioned as a brand campaign, not a movie campaign.  The studio did everything possible to try and sell those words "John Carter" in your face as something to associate with fantastic imagery while forgetting the need to sell either a marketing hook or the movie's storyline.  By the time they got around to trying to fix it, moviegoers and TV viewers (subject to TV spots and a useless Super Bowl spot) had already reacted to the film with general ambivalence. At that point, you've only damaged your brand, not grown it.

Inflated expectations and pandering to a Pixar filmmaker

It won't help his standing in the filmmaking community that Andrew Stanton pretty much made it a mission in his publicity efforts to note that the way everyone has been making live action films over the past 100 years is "wrong."  Instead, they should reshoot and add scenes and shots not once (a process traditionally called "pick up") but just as often as animated films do (which can mean completely starting over from scratch).  Of course, that assumes that the cost for that process is similar to a CG or animated film and boy is it not.  Granted, that didn't really affect box office on its own, but it led to the film being released considerably later than originally planned.  After shooting for almost seven months, "John Carter" finished principal photography in July of 2010.  Because of Stanton's massive reshoot "process" it finally was released in the late winter of 2012.  That's a long time to generate negative buzz in the media, even if it's unwarranted.

Star power has its advantages

There is a problem in a live action film when your most recognizable actor, in this case Willem Dafoe, is unrecognizable under a motion capture animated facade.  Taylor Kitsch may have a long career in front of him, but a role on the low-rated "Friday Night Lights" and a bit part in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" should not be the qualifications for a film like this.  Even in Kitsch's next film, "Battleship," he's been surrounded by familiar faces to the public including Liam Neeson, Rhianna and Alexander Skarsgard. If Stanton was going to eventually spend $250 million (a conservative estimate), he should have at least cast a star or two to help open the film (how about one of a dozen well known actresses to replace Lynn Collins?).  Granted, we're not sure someone such as Ryan Gosling would have taken this role, but at least more of the moviegoing public would have recognized him.

What's a movie title anyway?
Stanton knew that the film could never survive at the box office Burroughs' original title, "A Princess of Mars," but like many filmmakers before him he figured "John Carter of Mars" would suffice.  Instead, he recalls Disney came to him saying that they had done extensive research proving that the "of Mars" portion would turn off women (perhaps because of the novel "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" or something like that).  Of course, the idea "John Carter" would ever be a completely four-quadrant film (meaning it appealed to both men and women, over 25 and under) was a major miscalculation.  Having somehow forgotten the lessons of their Bruckheimer successes in the late '90s and early '00s (whoops, wrong regime), the studio mistakenly went from the proposition that "John Carter" could be a family franchise in the "Pirates" vein.  In their view, if the movie was to succeed it would have to be simply titled "John Carter."  And yes, it's a title that means nothing to 95% of the moviegoing audience and likely sounds more like an inspirational drama more than a planet hopping epic.  Keeping the original title could have gone a long way in perception in the genre community and obviously would have given it a sense of wonder. Speaking of the genre community…

If you have a genre movie embrace the genre community

Disney is the only studio to completely re-launch a cult 1980's franchise with "Tron: Legacy" (cough, grossed more worldwide than J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek") and still question how they did it, why they did it and whether to make a third film.  That trepidation is partially why the studio skipped bringing "John Carter" to Comic-Con which was probably the one event featuring 125,000 geeks and genre fans who might have immediately gotten behind it eight months out (and lord knows the reaction if it was called "John Carter of Mars").  Sure, Disney will say Universal's experiences with "Scott Pilgrim" and "Cowboys & Aliens" over the past two years proved their theories about Comic-Con were right, but we'd throw HBO's success with "Game of Thrones," 20th Century Fox's buzz-building for "Prometheus" last summer and Sony's re-launch of "The Amazing Spider-Man" as examples of Comic-Con done right.  Oh, and the studio's early groundwork for "Tron: Legacy" wasn't bad either.  When the studio didn't send "John Carter" - which obviously had been in production for over a year and a half - it sent huge red flags within the genre community and created a worse result: unintended negative word of mouth.

It looked like 'Prince of Persia 2'
You have to wonder if either Stanton or the Disney marketing execs saw the studio's own film released in the summer of 2010, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."  The idea Stanton would costume Kitsch so closely to "Persia's" Jake Gyllenhaal or create a desert world that looked so similar is eyebrow raising.  Moreover, if Disney execs red-flagged this for Stanton and he ignored them than he only has himself to blame.  When the film's first teaser debuted last summer, the most common refrain was "Gee, doesn't that look like 'Prince of Persia'?"  And that was hardly the first impression Disney needed as they rolled out their campaign.

PR campaign rule #17: Make your movie seem special

It's hard to sell a lump of coal to audiences as gold (although it has been done), but "John Carter" isn't a bad movie.  Unfortunately, it just isn't outstanding or groundbreaking.  Neither Disney's beleaguered publicity team or its overall marketing efforts could do anything to make it seem special besides pushing the "brand."  Moreover, starting to compare the film's source material as the inspiration for films such as "Star Wars" or "Avatar" was a tactical mistake.  James Cameron, George Lucas and others may have mined Burroughs' grand ideas, but it only reiterated to audiences that "John Carter" isn't anywhere near as original as those modern classics.  

Red-orange is not a great color scheme for a movie campaign (aka, 'That was one bad poster')

Again, Disney (and possibly Stanton) took the brand idea for "John Carter" too far with the film's poster.  Do you know what colors successfully dominate most movie poster or key art (the industry term) campaigns?  Blue, black, white, red and gold.  So, while going with a dominate orange and yellow design may seem like a smart way to differentiate yourself from the competition it did the opposite.  It created a retro-esque campaign look that made the film look even less appealing to the under 25 demo.  Notice, Disney's international marketing division went in a completely different direction (and an alternate look here).  It may not be a perfect solution, but at least it's more intriguing.  The studio also didn't help itself with an outdoor campaign with a tiny John Carter battling white monsters (white apes) that anecdotally made the film seem more strange than intriguing. The irony is that Stanton actually created intriguing imagery that should have sold the film in print form. We'll likely never know how much of the print look Stanton signed off on and how much Disney's president of marketing at the time (the now departed M.T. Carney) pushed on him, but considering his experiences at Pixar he should have realized the campaign they had going forward was not going to work.

Will Disney change its tune regarding its brand philosophy?  The company has jettisoned former New York Advertising Agency wunderkind Carney in favor of Participant Media's Ricky Strauss who is credited with helping guide a strong campaign for DreamWorks Studios and Participants' "The Help."  Can he make sure the studio's next tent poles - "The Avengers," "Brave," "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Oz: The Great and Powerful" - avoid "John Carter's" fate? We wouldn't worry about Marvel's expected blockbuster or the first Pixar film in a year, but the latter two?  Hollywood and Disney investors will be watching. 

Why did or didn't you go see "John Carter"?  Share your thoughts below.


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Listen: Madonna's found a keeper in sweet 'Superstar'
Credit: AP Photo

Listen: Madonna's found a keeper in sweet 'Superstar'

New track from 'MDNA' surfaces full of light

Madonna’s found a keeper:  he’s like Caesar, stepping onto the throne and like Lincoln because he fights for what’s right.

After releasing snippets or lyrics of songs that clearly call out some of the men in her life, like "I Don't Give A,"  Madonna is a total ray of light when it comes to describing her man in this one-minute clip of “Superstar.” She’s so smitten, she’ll give the guy the password to her phone. If that’s not love, we don’t know what is.

[More after the jump...]

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Bonnaroo 2012 adds Santigold, fun., and several other acts

Artists join Radiohead, Phish, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others

Santigold, fun., Temper Trap, Danzig and Puscifer have been added to the 2012 Bonnaroo line-up.

The acts join such previously announced acts as Radiohead, Phish, Red Hot Chili Peppers,  The Avett Brothers, The Shins, Foster the People and The Beach Boys.

Danzig will be joined by other acts, including Sam Hain, to perform the music of The Misfits.

Bonnaroo runs June 7-10 in Manchester, TN.


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Credit: Hulu

SXSW: Morgan Spurlock, Richard Linklater and Timothy Levitch join with Hulu for 'the new Golden Age of TV'

A South By panel addresses the brave new world of serial content online

AUSTIN, Texas - Monday afternoon in the Austin Convention Center’s 18abc meeting room, Hulu content Senior Vice President Andy Forssell moderated a panel entitled “Changing the Channel: The New Golden Age of TV.” Enlisting filmmakers Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) and Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) and actor Timothy “Speed” Levitch (“The Cruise”) for a discussion about the migration of television content to online outlets such as Hulu, Forssell engaged them in a chat about the medium’s present, and future, before opening up the floor to questions from an eager, attentive audience.

Describing his job duties, Forssell explained, “My team and I get to figure out what kind of content people love, and how do we give it to them.” He then screened a sizzle reel of content that’s available for viewing on Hulu, including TV mainstays like “The Simpsons,” movies such as “Swingers” and Spurlock’s documentary series “A Day in the Life,” which is set to broadcast episodes from its second season within the next several weeks. Although Forssell acknowledged that Levitch is only sometimes a known quantity among audiences, he asked him, Spurlock and Linklater to join him on stage, where each of them discussed their individual projects and revealed what excited them about their upcoming partnerships with Hulu.

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Watch: Sexy and sweet Carrie Underwood versions in 'Good Girl' video

Watch: Sexy and sweet Carrie Underwood versions in 'Good Girl' video

Either way, they both wear impossibly high heels

Hey Girl, Carrie Underwood has some advice for you in her “Good Girl” video. The clip is really an extended fashion show for Underwood who plays both the titular “Good Girl” and the steamy bad girl doling out words of wisdom. In other words, if you like your Underwood on the sultry, sexy side, she’s got you covered. If you like your Underwood covered up, even sporting glasses, like the naughty librarian, she can deliver on that for you too.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch in a scene from &quot;John Carter.&quot;</p>

Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch in a scene from "John Carter."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Has ‘John Carter’ been a victim of the curse of the red planet?

With disappointing box office returns, a look at the resistance to films about Mars

If there were a film titled “The Curse of the Red Planet” that took place on Mars -- or had Martians as central figures -- recent endeavors indicate that it would be a financial disaster. Or at the very least, it would have little chance of success. Disney became so convinced of the power the word “Mars” had to repel ticket sales (though in part due to fear of alienating a female audience) that they did a mid-campaign 180 and switched the title “John Carter of Mars” to the equally problematic “John Carter” (which left many people wondering, “Should I know who that is?”)

Indeed, film pundits have (primarily sight unseen) been predicting grand scale disaster for “John Carter” for months now. In truth, the title had a disappointing opening weekend, coming in just behind Universal’s family film “The Lorax” with a $30.6 total. Though, as Gregory Ellwood points out in today’s box office report, “John Carter” earned $70 million internationally in addition to its domestic gross, a figure that may give the financiers at Disney some measure of hope that the $250 million film will not pick up where 2011’s disastrous “Mars Needs Moms” left off (In the red. Yep).

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<p>Ashley Judd emotes a lot in &quot;Missing.&quot;</p>

Ashley Judd emotes a lot in "Missing."

Credit: ABC

Review: Ashley Judd is a mother looking for her son in ABC's 'Missing'

New action drama is "Taken" tweaked for ABC's upscale female demo
It's been more than a year since FOX debuted "The Chicago Code," which was the most recent show in an unfortunate but amusing tradition of shows promoted relentlessly with the same shouted line in every promo. Before Jennifer Beals was asked, incredulously, "You think you can change how things get done IN CHICAGO?!?!," Ron Silver tried to warn his daughter in "Skin" that "His father is THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!," while the first "House" promos had House complaining to Cuddy, "You're risking A PATIENT'S LIFE!" Many of these shows have been good, but it's just too easy to remember the one loud quote that the promo department drilled into our brains.
There weren't any fall shows with ad campaigns that were so quotable, so I'm glad that ABC is finally picking up the mantle with "Missing," the new action drama (debuting Thursday night at 8 p.m.) that's summed up in every commercial by Ashley Judd barking out the line, "I am not CIA! I am A MOTHER! LOOKING FOR HER SON!"
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<p>Megan Hilty as Ivy in &quot;Smash.&quot;</p>

Megan Hilty as Ivy in "Smash."

Credit: NBC

'Smash' - 'Chemistry': Roid rage

Ivy turns to performance enhancers, Karen plays a bar mitzvah and Michael pursues Julia

A review of last night's "Smash" coming up just as soon as bismuth is my favorite element...

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<p>Glenn Close in &quot;Albert Nobbs.&quot;</p>

Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs."

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Movieline takes on the Razzies with the Soily Awards

Nominees for 2011's worst range from Michael Bay to Glenn Close

I've complained before about the Razzie Awards, a goofy institution that long ago had the fun sapped out of it by its voters' narrowness of focus and constant recycling of the same targets. This year's awards, curiously shifted to April Fools' Day, are a case in point: how many times do we need to keep beating up on the "Twilight" franchise when there are more egregious (not to mention original) offenders out there? As if to illustrate how devoid of inspiration the Razzies have become, they nominated the same five films for Worst Picture, Director, Screenplay and Ensemble. Spread the love loathing a little, people.

Evidently, I'm not the only one to feel this way. The folks at Movieline have decided to beat the Razzies at their own game with the inaugural Soily Awards, a self-described "attempt to reconcile the year's highest-profile Hollywood misfires with their truly uninspired brethren." 20 critics and journalists were polled, including yours truly, and while the resulting nominations aren't quite as cutting as they could be, they at least make for more amusing reading than the Razzie list.

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<p>That's a whooooooole lot of charisma in just one room at the recent press day for 'The Hunger Games'</p>

That's a whooooooole lot of charisma in just one room at the recent press day for 'The Hunger Games'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: A 'Hunger Games' Free-for-all with Harrelson, Banks and Kravitz

A spirited conversation with some of the major supporting players from the film

It's a rule of on-camera interviews that you don't really want to sit down with more than two people at the same time.  Groups of three can be hard, even when all three people are ready and willing, because of the logistics of it.  You're talking about four to six minutes with four people in a conversation.  That's a sprint, no matter what, and it worries me walking into a room.

I feel like I've interviewed Elizabeth Banks many times now, and she's one of the most unassuming, easygoing people you can sit down with.  I get the sense she understands how fundamentally silly this process can be, and she always appears to be having fun with it.  I talked to her about "Hunger Games" when we met for "Man On The Ledge," and when I sat down with Woody Harrelson for "Rampart," I couldn't resist a little bit of talk about Haymitch, his character in this film.

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