Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Silver (and Gold) Screen

During my research for a recent writing project, I came across three amazing sites that I feel compelled to share with you.

Warning: If you like movies, you’ll find yourself at these sites for hours.

You have been warned.

The first, Worldwide Box Office, allows you to look up the domestic, overseas, and/or worldwide gross for just about any movie you can think of. And you can create your own lists by year—or by ranges of years—to see how your favorite movies stack up against each other.

The second, MovieWeb’s Top Grossing Movies site, lists the top 1000—yes, that’s one THOUSAND— movies by U.S. box office receipts.

And the third, The Numbers’ ranking of movies by estimated budgets, helps you discover which films bombed (and how badly) and which ones made serious bank for their studios.

Within these three sites—which sometimes disagree on details—I have found some interesting factoids for your consideration and comment.

A Disturbance in the Force. The Star Wars installments rank in this order, according to Worldwide Box Office, of all-time highest grossing films in the U.S.:
1. Episode IV: A New Hope, #2
2. Episode I: The Phantom Menace, #5
3. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, #8
4. Episode II: Attack of the Clones, #19
5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, #20
6. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, #25

Two things really bother me about this list: Some piece of inane schlock called Titanic beats out all of the Star Wars films; and my favorite movie in the series, Empire, is last of the six.

The Billion-Dollar Club. Three films have so far crossed the billion-dollar threshold for worldwide ticket sales, according to The Numbers:
1. Titanic: $1,835,400,000
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: $1,062,243,393
3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: $1,129,027,325

And the site lists these movies’ budgets at $200 million, $150 million, and (only?) $94 million, respectively. Think about this: If my math is right, these three films together have netted more than $3.5 billion.

That’s more than the annual GDP of 50 countries.

The Golden Quarter Century. According to MovieWeb’s top-grossing list, the last 25 years have been huge for the U.S. box office. Among the 70 highest grossing films on the all-time list, only these five were released before 1981. Keep in mind that older movies are often re-released, jacking up their totals to counteract the inflationary pressure that pushes most old movies’ cash totals steadily down the list:
1. Star Wars: Episode I: A New Hope, #2
2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, #4
3. Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, #25
4. Jaws, #34
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark, #42

Those are some damn good movies. And all of them involved George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, or both.

Last But Not Least. I know you’re wondering about the 1000th best-grossing movie in the U.S. As of today, per MovieWeb, it’s 1978’s Halloween—which is sadly just behind many much more forgettable films, like Emma Thompson’s recent Nanny McPhee.

Oh yes. Even Nanny McPhee made more than $100 million.

I really need to get into the movie industry. Just call me Amulet McPhee.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Killing Us (Not So) Softly

I have a feeling I’m not the first person to write about this. Nor will I be the last. Honestly, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately and haven’t had a chance to troll the blogs I enjoy or even major news sites, so this post may be overkill.

Sorry, that’s a poor choice of words.

You see, O.J. Simpson has written a book with the working title O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened, referring to the “unsolved” murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. O.J. is also scheduled to appear on Fox in an interview special airing in two parts on November 27 and November 29.

Many words come to mind—like “classy” and “tasteful,” albeit with the word “NOT” firmly before them. Simpson is making a mockery of the families’ suffering; he hasn’t said if any royalties will go toward the unpaid bulk of the $33.5 million wrongful death civil judgment he still has looming over him.

Don’t get me wrong. I support the U.S. justice system despite its flaws. I’d rather see someone who is probably guilty go free than see someone who is probably innocent be falsely imprisoned for life or murdered by the state.

But describing how you would have committed murders that most people think you got away with anyway is probably the most despicable thing he could do right now.

I shouldn’t say that—next thing you know, he’ll announce he’s recreating the crime with Nicole and Ron look-alikes.

At least NBC passed on the interview special opportunity, citing questionable taste. But not all publishers and networks see it that way, so I fear the precedent this will set—and the prospect of seeing these titles on the bookshelf:

Mark Foley, I Did Not Send Inappropriate Sexual E-Mails to Underage Congressional Pages … But If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.

Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, We Did Not Mean To Expose Janet’s Breast at the Super Bowl To Boost Our Careers … But If We Did It, Here’s How It Happened.

Bill Clinton, I Did Not Have Sexual Relations with That Woman, Miss Lewinsky … But If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.

Lee Harvey Oswald, I Did Not Take the Fall for a Vast Conspiracy To Kill President Kennedy … But If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.

Adolf Hitler, I Didn’t Kill Millions of Jews, Gypsies, and Others I Deemed ‘Undesirable’ … But If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened.

Shame on you, O.J. You make me sick.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fantasy Island

Global warming advocates tell us that the world's land is slowly disappearing.

And their logic is sound. Rising temperatures will melt polar ice, which over time will push the world’s oceans higher, covering low-lying islands and coastal areas. Makes sense.

But the earth is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.

This fall, the South Pacific lost some of its surface area when Mother Earth pushed and pushed … and gave birth to a new island near Tonga. It popped up through the surface because of undersea volcanic activity. Once the occurrence is confirmed, the size of the Pacific Ocean—not to mention the land area of the nation of Tonga—will require recalculation.

But the real difficulty probably will arise when the time comes to name the island. So many options …

Let’s start with a traditional choice: Taufa’ahau. It would be a good name, given that Tonga’s King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV just passed away in September after ruling for 41 years (which is forever in country-rulership terms, almost as long as The Rolling Stones have been together). I'll admit, however, that it's a bit hard for non-Tongans to pronounce.

That leaves an opening for a geographical name. Like Little Tonga. After all, at less than a mile in diameter, the new islet isn’t going to be a giant anytime soon. But Tonga’s pretty tiny already, so this name would be humiliating for the islet and lead to years of therapy later on.

So maybe pop culture is the way to go. With its emergence from nowhere, the island might be best named after American Idol’s Taylor Hicks. Hicks’ fate since his victory, on the other hand, means that this island would be destined to drop right back in the ocean.

I'm stumped.

Well, this concern about naming the volcanic islet could be misplaced anyway. More than likely, global warming will just wipe it out again unless it finds some way to rise higher—and quickly.

In other words, although it’s getting much attention for its sudden arrival, the island shouldn’t get too cocky. It has a moment in the sun, sure, but a lack of growth and productivity may seal its doom. In a couple of years, the islet may fade into history without much ado.

So let’s just call it Democratic control of Congress.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Time is Right

All good things must come to an end.

And all silly things, too. Like an 80-something-year-old hosting a game show.

It’s the biggest news from last week, overwhelming North Korea’s return to six-party talks about its nuclear program. It’s more stunning than the announcement of a space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. And bigger than the revelation of indirect negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah.

Bob Barker will step down as host of TV’s “The Price Is Right” next June after 35 years at the show’s helm. And it’s about time: He began his television career hosting “Truth of Consequences” back in 1956.

That means he’s been on TV longer than “ER,” “Law and Order,” and “The Simpsons.”


The looming retirement of this Adam Sandler-punching, gray hair-gelling, “have your pets spayed or neutered”-saying octogenarian may do us all some good by spurring these other, long-overdue retirements:

Rod Stewart: Back in the day, way back, you were a rocker, lending your voice to great classic rock songs like “Stay With Me” and “Every Picture Tells a Story.” Then came disco. And 80s pop. And, more recently, schlock from the 40s and 50s.

You couldn’t hold on to Rachel Hunter, and now you’ve lost your marbles. Hey, Rod—it’s time to retire.

Teddy Kennedy: You’re pushing 75 but still taking up a potentially productive seat in the U.S. Senate. I guess you’re trying to provide a precise answer to what I thought was a rhetorical question: How long can you milk the family legacy?

Maybe you’re trying to stay in the Senate until you can take a flying car into the waters off Chappaquiddick. Hey, Ted—it’s time to retire.

Stephen Colbert: Why are you hosting a show on Comedy Central? Your sights are set way too low. With your keen observations, acerbic wit, and good fashion sense, you should be doing bigger, better things than broadcasting.

You’d be one hell of a campaigner. Hey, Stephen—it’s time to retire … and run for Congress!

Maybe you can run against Teddy.