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Friday, April 13, 2012

Coachella. A Titanic Weekend. Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter by any other name. Charlie Sheen's Bowling Shirt in Museum Exhibit. Political Ads return to PBS and NPR.

Photo: Benjamin Walker in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." Credit: Alan Markfield / 20th Century Fox.
Honest Abe Vamp Killer Name Change. Abraham Lincoln won't get top billing in some foreign countries when his vampire-hunting adventure hits the big screen this summer.

Hoping to make its adaptation of the bestselling book "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" more accessible to overseas moviegoers who might not be familiar with America's 16th president, 20th Century Fox is calling its June release "President Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in Taiwan and Thailand and simply "Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in Hong Kong and South Korea, a spokesman for the studio confirmed.

In Italy and Portugal, meanwhile, the title character is gone entirely. The film will be called "The Legend of the Vampire Hunter" and "Secret Diary of the Vampire Hunter," respectively, in those countries.

In the rest of Europe and all of the Spanish-speaking world, the picture will carry a local language version of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

It's not uncommon for movies to get new names in certain overseas markets, particularly when the original title contains references that have more resonance for Americans. Last year's "Captain America: The First Avenger," for instance, was known simply as "The First Avenger" in South Korea, Russia and Ukraine.

For "Abraham Lincoln," directed by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, some at Fox are already concerned  that the content itself -- with a main character drawn from American history -- will be less appealing than many other summer movies in certain overseas markets. Given the importance of international box office to turning a profit on big budget tentpoles, the last thing the studio needs is a title that will make the challenge even more difficult.

Photo: Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace in "Lockout." Credit: FilmDistrict.

Independent studio FilmDistrict is getting back into the theatrical distribution
business with the hiring of a veteran MGM and Paramount executive.

The company behind "Insidious," "Drive" and this weekend's science-fiction thriller "Lockout" has been without a distribution operation since the former chief of that department, Bob Berney, unexpectedly left last November.

As a result, FilmDistrict partnered with Open Road Films and Sony Pictures to release most of its 2012 movies, including November's remake of "Red Dawn."

Its new president of distribution, Jim Orr, previously oversaw domestic distribution at MGM from 2006-2011. From 1987 until 2006 he worked in domestic distribution at Paramount, leaving as senior vice president of the department. Most recently he was a consultant whose clients included FilmDistrict.

The move comes soon after FilmDistrict hired the well-respected Christine Birch away from DreamWorks Studios as its president of marketing. Birch replaces Berney's wife Jeanne, who was executive vice president of marketing and left along with her husband.

December's Gerard Butler romantic comedy "Playing the Field" will be the first film released by the new FilmDistrict team of Orr and Birch.

FilmDistrict is headed by Chief Executive Peter Schlessel and backed by producer Graham King and his financing partner Tim Headington.

Photo: An image from Mass Effect 3. Credit: Associated Press.

Video games continue their slide. March was another brutal month for sales of video game discs and consoles as total revenue dropped 25% in the U.S. from the same month last year, according to research firm NPD Group.

It was the fourth straight month that video game industry sales have dropped and comes after revenue fell 8% in 2011. However, the data include only sales of physical games and consoles and excludes the fast-growing but still smaller market for digital downloads, social and mobile video games.

It was the devices themselves that suffered the most, with revenue down 35% to $323.5 million. NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in an email that while sales of all video game devices were down, "high definition consoles" — meaning Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's Playstation 3 — fared best. That meant Nintendo's Wii and handheld 3DS and Sony's new handheld Playstation Vita, which debuted in February, appear to have sold poorly.

Sales of software — the games themselves — dropped 25% to $553.1 million. Electronic Arts' highly anticipated science-fiction sequel Mass Effect 3 was the month's best-selling game, while Capcom's newest installment in its Resident Evil horror series, Operation Raccoon City, came in at No. 2.
Activision Blizzard's kids' game series Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure continued to be popular, NPD said. The game itself, released in October, was still the No. 15 title in March. More significantly, three Skylander "character packs" — toys that can be integrated into the game — were among the top-10-selling video game accessories for the month. "The [Skylanders] accessory items are selling phenomenally well," said Frazier.

No escape! The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed rules that prohibited political advertising on non-commercial radio and television stations. The decision was quickly blasted by media watchdogs fearing that public broadcasting will no longer be free of nasty political attack ads. The Justice Department said it is reviewing the decision. Coverage from the Los Angeles Times and Broadcasting & Cable.Public radio and television stations may no longer be a safe haven from political advertising.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued a ruling Thursday that throws out a congressional statute prohibiting public radio and television stations from accepting political advertisements. The court kept intact rules banning advertising for for-profit entities on public stations.
Some media advocacy groups blasted the ruling, concerned that public radio and television stations will become just another platform for political attack ads.

“Polluting public broadcasting with misleading and negative political ads is not in keeping with the original vision of noncommercial broadcasting," said Craig Aaron, president and chief executive of Free Press. "At a time when people are turning to public broadcasting to get away from the flood of nasty attack ads, viewers don’t want to see ‘Sesame Street’ being brought to them by shadowy Super PACs.”

The Department of Justice said it was reviewing the 9th Circuit decision and declined further comment on whether it would appeal the ruling.

If the ruling stands and nonprofit stations open their doors to political ads, it could be bad news for the commercial television and radio stations that count on political advertising as a big money maker during election years.

Commercials were banned on public broadcasting stations because the government didn't want concern over ratings and advertising dollars to influence programming decisions at stations whose mandate is to serve the public with news and educational programming.

In its ruling, the 9th Circuit agreed there is no evidence to support Congress’ "specific determination that public issue and political advertisements impact the programming decisions of public broadcast stations to a degree that justifies the comprehensive advertising restriction at issue here."

The ruling was in response to a suit filed by KMTP-TV, a non-commercial television in San Francisco, which wanted to have the rules tossed on 1st Amendment grounds. The station had been fined by the Federal Communications Commission for accepting paid advertising from for-profit companies, including State Farm and Chevrolet.

The Three Stooges will try to top Hunger Games
Photo: "The Three Stooges." Credit: Peter Iovino/20th Century Fox/MCT.

Devouring the competition. "The Hunger Games" looks poised to take the weekend box office crown for the fourth weekend in a row. Among the major releases premiering this weekend, only "The Three Stooges" is given any shot at scoring an upset. Industry watchers have "The Three Stooges" taking in between $15 million and $18 million while 20th Century Fox is trying to lower those expectations. I was never a fan of the Stooges and I'm not sure anyone under 30 knows who they were or that anyone over 40 will rush out to see the movie. Last thought: Don't underestimate "The Cabin in the Woods." Box office projections from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.

Big exit. Steve Molen, the head of physical production for DreamWorks, is leaving the movie company. The exit comes after DreamWorks signed a new financing agreement with India's Reliance Entertainment that will likely lead to the company making fewer movies. More on the significance of Molen's departure from the Hollywood Reporter.

Comedy comeback. People of a certain age (my age) will remember listening over and over to records by comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Then cable television came along and stand-up specials took over. Now, though, comedians are again releasing CDs and finding an audience. The Wall Street Journal looks at whether a trend is emerging.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Mary McNamara on HBO's new hipster comedy "Girls." What to expect at Coachella.

-- Joe Flint

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