July 19, 2006

Hollywood Meets Real World

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Economy — Tom @ 1:25 pm

Financial reality has set in on the movie industry on three fronts.

Movie Stars Meet Real World (Full article requires subscription; HT Techdirt) –

Hollywood stars are being forced to take pay cuts as the major studios are pulling the plug on big-budget projects.

With last year’s box office takings down 5.2 per cent and the cost of making movies ballooning because of added expenses for digital enhancement and global marketing, studios are refusing to meet stars’ financial demands. In addition, several high-profile films due to go into production have suddenly disappeared from view.

Movie Director Meets Real World (blog link used because the NY Post moves Page Six material quickly), as a critic hits his taste limit and walks out of “Clerks II” –

DON’T joke about women, donkeys and bestiality if you expect Joel Siegel to watch your movie. That’s what director Kevin Smith found out when the pun-loving “Good Morning America” film critic stormed out of a press screening of Smith’s “Clerks II,” which opens Friday – an act that’s sparked a vicious war of words between the two.

As you can see from his bio, Siegel, the only film critic who has ever received a Tony Award nomination (1982 for The First, the story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier), is no slouch. I think it was a rude mistake for Siegel to announce to the entire screening audience during the filming that he was walking out, as the full Page Six report noted. But it’s telling when the subject matter and presentation of a major studio film are so disgusting that a respected mainstream film reviewer can’t take it any more.

And yes, this is a financial issue. Makers of tasteless comedies have assumed for years that they can pump out their bilge without a meaningful pushback from critics or filmgoers. It may very well be that “Clerks II” will benefit from the controversy, but the studios are on notice that not everyone is going to sit there and take it. Similar trashy films in the future won’t have the benefit of the high-profile Smith-Siegel mud-wrestling match.

In fact, critics and audiences might choose to sit somewhere else. One major studio looks like it has figured that out in the next item.

Movie Studio Meets Real World, as Disney decides to return to its roots –

Walt Disney (DIS) is restructuring its studio division to emphasize blockbuster franchise films over more adult fare, a move that will mean slashing 650 jobs worldwide, the company announced Tuesday.

Among those who will be losing their jobs is Disney’s longtime head of live-action production, Nina Jacobsen.

Disney veteran Oren Aviv, president of marketing and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios, was promoted to president of production.

The restructuring will cut Disney’s film output from about 18 a year to about a dozen. Of those, about 10 will be released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner, a proven family friendly brand that includes the successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Family films as the road to moviemaking success — Who knew?

George Nethercutt Says It’s Not 1994 for the GOP

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:40 am

He says so in an OpinionJournal.com piece today (e-mail registration may be required).

He does so without any apparent sense of irony or comedy.

This is the same George Nethercutt who broke his 1994 pledge to serve no more than three terms in the House; he served five terms before being defeated in 2004.

This is also the same George Nethercutt who, upon being defeated in 2004, went into the business of ….. big-bucks lobbying.

Of all the people The Journal could have picked to do a comparison between 2006 and 1994. I guess “Duke” Cunningham wasn’t available?

Carnival Barking

Filed under: General — Tom @ 11:02 am

Newshound’s 32nd Carnival of Ohio Politics is here.

Boring Made Dull’s 4th Carnival of Economics and Social Policy, which was posted Sunday, is here.

Wal-Mart Has Lost Its Way

Filed under: Business Moves,Corporate Outrage — Tom @ 10:19 am

This blog has defended Wal-Mart when it has been deserving of defense, especially in the Maryland “healthcare tax” situation (“Question 1″ at link).

But after reading this Debbie Schlussel post, it’s clear to me that the company has lost its way. The executive appointments Schlussel identifies (Andy Young, who while UN Ambassador in 1979 met with the Palestine Liberation Organization, an act forbidden under US law at the time; and Harriet Hentges, who in addition to what Schlussel cites, appears way to willing to have a “dialog” with terrorists in the Philippines in this 2003 report), and the near white-flag surrender reflected in its policy change (third item at link) relating to “petty” (under $25) shoplifting, are clear indicators of a company that has been cowed by its critics, thinks that the critics can somehow be placated (they can’t), and is losing sight that its first duty is to its shareholders.

Another bad sign: jimmyb at Steve the Pirate notes that the company is limiting gun sales to one store per district (no, I don’t know how big a district is). It’s hard not to see this as a has partial give-in to the anti-gun crowd. The folks at WallyWorld Headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, clearly don’t understand that Sarah Brady’s acolytes won’t be satisfied with anything short of a total withdrawal from gun retailing.

The stock is down about 15% in the past seven weeks. I’m not a great stock predictor (and of course what follows should not be construed as financial advice), but based on management’s loss of focus, I don’t think Wal-Mart stock is done going down, or at least underperforming the rest of the market.


UPDATE: I would also question whether Wal-Mart’s foray into “social networking” is a wise move, or if it has been thought through.

UPDATE 2: Today a US District Judge ruled The Wal-Mart Maryland health-care tax unconstitutional (HT Porkopolis in the comments section below).

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (071906)

Free Links:

  • Preying on the Elderly — The language in the article is a little over the top in some places, but the overall point is important: No matter what your age, if you go to one of these “free lunch” seminars, do not make any commitments to meet with an adviser on the day of the presentation, and do not meet with that person or firm at all until you understand totally the material presented, and have run their ideas by someone else who is knowledgeable. Forty firms, unfortunately unnamed, are under investigation for presentations that range from misleading to outright cons. The elderly are prime targets, mostly because, as the article says, “That’s where the money is,” but also (not noted) because many of the elderly are vulnerable, because of emotional reasons (spouse passed away, etc.) or diminishing mental capacity.
  • BizzyBlog Quoted and Coverage Noted — Beltway Blogroll’s “The Master of Eminent Domain” entry noted my coverage of post-Kelo ruling developments in New London, CT, and quoted me on what blogs can do to try to call attention to future abuses.
  • The Incredible Shrinking New York Times — Employees are being let go, the paper will be 1-1/2 inches less wide, and companywide circulation is declining. Given inflation, if circ revenue is only up 0.6%, as indicated in the Times’ article about itself (registration probably required), print-edition readership must be down overall. Oh, one other thing is shrinking — The Times Company’s stock price, which closed yesterday at $22.67, down over a third since mid-September of last year, and 57% since its alltime high of $52.79 on June 20, 2002. I don’t suppose anyone at the Grey Lady has figured out that their weak, biased, and borderline treasonous coverage of The Wars on Terror and in Iraq might have something to do with its reversed fortunes.
  • China’s economy grew at an annualized rate of 11.3% in the second quarter. I wonder when the redistributionists will start objecting to this: “The nation had 320,000 U.S. dollar millionaires in 2005, according to Cap Gemini SA, and Shanghai’s benchmark stock index is up 44 percent this year.”
  • Even if you’re not from New Jersey, you should look at the six-part series The Bergen County Record is halfway through presenting on The Garden State’s financial situation (“Runaway Pay“), if for no other reason than the chip that columnist Frank Scandale clearly has on his shoulder (HT Club for Growth)
  • TAXES ARE the crack of New Jersey lawmakers. Pure and simple. The more they get, the more they want. The more they want, the more they need to get the same results.

    Once they get a hit, it feels good. But an hour later, they need another hit, and now they need a little more. Pretty soon, it gets pricey for a fix.

    Taxpayers get angry because they have to fund the fix. They vote out the last addict. A new one comes in and swears on a stack of holy documents that taxes are not an option. OK, maybe not a viable option. OK, what he really meant was they are the last option.

    Really, what he meant was that there is no other way.

    Pass the pipe, please.

    I can hear them howling right now. “That’s not true. You don’t understand. We don’t want to raise taxes, but…”

    Save it for the next guy. We’ve heard it all before. Instead, let’s tackle the problem and try to fix it.

    Among other things, the first three parts of the series note that police salaries in the state average over $100,000; property tax levy increases have significantly exceeded inflation for the past 10 years; New Jersey has over 500,000 public employees (more than 10% of workers in the whole state; this does not include any federal workers); that teachers pay no premiums for their medical benefits; and that 78,000 public employees get totally free medical benefits (no deductibles or co-pays).

    The only way to get costs under control is for New Jersey voters to take away the crack pipe, something they have seemed congenitally unable to do.

Positivity: Items Stolen 25 Years Ago Returned to Convent

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:01 am

Though you might suspect after reading this that the original thief may not really have repented, the return of the items involved is surely good news (HT Good News Blog):

Watches, crucifixes stolen 25 years ago from convent returned

NEWTON, Mass (AP) — It took a quarter-century, but his conscience finally got the best of a thief.

Several crucifixes, pocket watches and a wristwatch were stolen from Maria Convent in Newton in 1981. Just last week, the Rev. Joseph Keil at Our Lady’s Help of Christians parish received a package shipped from San Jose, Calif., containing the stolen items, and a letter.

“The note said the person who took them was sorry, that the jewelry was taken many years ago and if it could be returned to the owner, that would be great,” Keil told the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham.

….. The convent is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston. Sister Joanne Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the order, said it’s still unknown whether the returned items were actually stolen from the Maria Convent.

“All I know it was 25 years ago and we really don’t have any accurate information right now,” she said.

Newton police Lt. Bruce Apotheker said a person has been interviewed who remembered the convent being burglarized over Labor Day weekend in 1981, but could not remember what was stolen.

The letter, dated July 2, 2006, seemed to be written by someone close to the thief instead of the actual culprit, Keil said.

“Please help return these items to the Sisters that they were stolen from, if possible,” the anonymous letter reads in part.

“The person who stole them asks for their forgiveness, as he has asked for God’s forgiveness, and is extremely sorry for the pain that their theft caused.”