Cinema Psycho

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Archive for July, 2005

9 Songs

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 28, 2005

Directed by Michael Winterbottom/starring Kieran O’Brien, Margo Stilley/Tartan Films

A British man recalls his relationship with a young American woman.

For those of you who don’t know, 9 Songs is a controversial British film from one of the most interesting directors working today, Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, The Claim, Code 46). What’s so controversial, you ask? Well, how about the fact that it contains hardcore sex scenes?

Got your attention? Thought so.

So the film came out in England last year, accompanied by outrage from some circles and a collective shrug from most critics. Now it’s opened in America, in what I assume will be a very limited release, given that most theater chains won’t even play NC-17 films with full frontal nudity, much less unrated films with actual sex in them. I wouldn’t expect to find it at your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video either, unless it’s a censored version. (And honestly, who wants that?) I normally wouldn’t get to see something like this in my neck of the woods, but the good folks at Tartan provided me with a screener copy. Thanks, guys!

One thing I’m not going to do here is get into the whole porn debate. I think that would be a waste of time for the readers and for me. Porn is just another form of entertainment, one that has existed for decades and will continue to exist as long as there are people who are willing to do it. That’s just the reality of the situation. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. The same goes for this film – if the idea of watching actors actually have sex on camera turns you off, you’re probably not going to want to see this. If that’s the case, I’d recommend that you don’t. But my job is to review the film exactly as it is, which in this case is a film that contains…well, fucking. That’s what the movie is, and if you can’t deal with it, run away screaming now.

There’s not much in the way of plot in 9 Songs; it’s basically 69 minutes (hardy har har) of a guy (O’Brien) remembering what his relationship with a girl (Stilley) was like. That’s the movie. They go out and see alternative bands, including Franz Ferdinand, the Von Bondies, the Dandy Warhols, Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals (if you haven’t heard of any of them, well, now you have). We watch them watch the bands play, and the music is cool. They have banal conversations, argue over nothing, snort some coke and occasionally have sex.

Not that I’m any expert, but it sounds pretty much like a typical relationship to me (well, except for the coke and seeing cool bands). Which is the whole point. It’s not a cute romantic comedy or a grand romantic epic in the tradition of Doctor Zhivago. It’s a relationship in the way that most people have relationships: they meet, they hook up, they do stuff together, and it either lasts or it doesn’t. There’s none of the bullshit that happens in most movies that never happens to anyone in real life. Some people may consider that boring to watch, but I thought it was refreshing and honest.

Those of you with so-called “prurient interests” who want to watch this movie just to get off might be a little disappointed. The sex in the film is actually pretty ordinary, compared to what you can see in most porn movies out there (not that I would know anything about that…ahem). There aren’t any acrobatics or gymnastics going on here; it’s not even particularly energetic, much less rough or nasty. Again, I think that’s the whole point. I would imagine that most people don’t have the kind of sex you see in hardcore porn films, at least not often. It may be “shocking” to some people just because it’s sex, but really it seems pretty harmless. It comes off as more of a natural extension of a typical movie love scene, except Winterbottom doesn’t cut away when the intimacy starts.

9 Songs is exclusively a two-character piece, and that kind of film rises or falls on the acting. The inclusion of sexual activity would seem to make it even more of a challenge. Thankfully, O’Brien and Stilley are up to the task. They’re completely convincing as a couple, and they actually seem to enjoy each other’s company (in every possible way), unlike most porn actors who seem to have been thrown together at random (then again, a hot young female pretending that she’s really into screwing Ron Jeremy might be considered acting at its finest…). In all honesty, Stilley doesn’t really do it for me; she’s certainly not ugly, but she’s a bit too skinny and bony for my taste (rib cages don’t really turn me on). Having said that, she exudes a natural sexiness and comfort with her body (and O’Brien’s) that proves very appealing. I’ve read that she regrets having done the film, which is too bad; I wouldn’t say she’s the next Taylor Rain or anything, but she certainly has nothing to be ashamed of. She’s an actress, she did what the part required and did it well. It’s no more degrading than, say, working at Wal-Mart for slave wages.

I suppose the most important question concerning 9 Songs would have to be, “is it art, or is it pornography?” Well, maybe it’s a combination of both. Is that such a bad thing? It plays much more like an experimental film (albeit one where you can understand what the hell’s going on) than a skin flick designed to stimulate one’s libido. If you’re capable of adjusting your sensibilities to accept that it’s a real movie that happens to include real sex, it’s actually a very interesting film to watch as a whole. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, but it’s an intriguing, alive piece of work.

I can’t picture mainstream Hollywood adopting this approach any time in the near future (can you imagine Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock having sex on camera? Yeah, me neither. Maybe Meg Ryan…), but I think a film like this has every right to exist and to be seen by any adults that are curious enough to track it down. It’s kind of ironic that porn is a multibillion-dollar industry, yet a serious film about a sexual relationship between adults will have a hard time being seen by most of the people in this country.

Then again, you can always say you’re watching it because you like the bands in it…just like we read Playboy for the articles. Right.

***   7/28/05

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Attack of the Zombie Quote Whores! or, Why Certain Movie Critics Aren’t Doing their Damn Jobs

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 21, 2005

I was recently reading yet another article about “quote whores” – those so-called critics who the studios love because they gush over everything! The quote whores can be counted on for an enthusiastic “pull quote” for a movie’s TV and newspaper ads, no matter how lousy or godawful the movie happens to be.

Some quotes, of course, come from legitimate critics; if a movie’s good enough, that is. But if the movie’s a piece of crap, you’ll see the same ridiculous, overblown quotes from the usual suspects: “Magnificent!” (Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine), “A Treasure for the Whole Family!” (Mark S. Allen, UPN-TV), “Better than Sexual Intercourse with a Playboy Playmate!” (Paul Wunder, WBAI Radio). You get the idea.

Is anyone still fooled by this? I guess some people must be. For anyone who hasn’t figured it out by now, this is a ploy the studios use to fool unsuspecting moviegoers into thinking that well-respected critics really love the latest Hilary Duff teen romantic comedy or Michael Bay blockbuster. The quote whores’ names are usually in very small print and, at least on the TV ads, flash by so quickly that most people don’t even notice that they’re not exactly from The New York Times.

Using quotes from these no-names is a desperate attempt to trick Joe Schmo into thinking that the likes of Alone in the Dark and Mindhunters might actually be worth their valuable time and money. It’s sad, really – they might as well be quoting me, for cryin’ out loud. Think about it: has anyone ever actually seen a copy of Wireless Magazine? I’m convinced that it doesn’t exist. Where the hell is WBAI Radio, anyway? Why don’t I ever see Mark S. Allen on my local UPN station? Who are these people?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not necessarily bad to give a glowing review to a movie that no one else on Earth likes. God knows I’ve done it. I think part of being a good critic (even an amateur one) is sticking to your guns and defending your taste. But when you see the same names over and over again, justifying the existence of movies that no one with half a brain could possibly enjoy, you have to wonder. It’s possible that these guys just like everything they see – but what’s the point of reading their reviews? You might as well be reading no reviews at all. “Just see anything, it’s all good” is their message. Even the most undiscriminating movie cheerleader could do better than that.

On the other hand, I’ve grown increasingly tired of the overly self-important and self-serving form of criticism offered up by the “respected” critics, like thumbmasters Ebert and Roeper (though I still watch their damn show every week, so maybe I’m a masochist). Ebert isn’t so bad, though some have accused him of being overly generous lately, I just find him inconsistent at times. His War of the Worlds review, which focused almost solely on the practicality of three-legged attack vessels, made me question his sanity (dude, they’re aliens! Maybe tripods make sense on their world! It’s a small part of the damn movie anyway!). That one element kept him from enjoying the movie? Hey Roger, sharks don’t normally attack people without provocation! I guess that means Jaws sucks too, right?

But no critic annoys me more than the smug, dismissive and pretentious Richard Roeper. The idea that this snotty pseudo-intellectual yuppie was considered the successor to Gene Siskel completely blows my mind. Leonard Maltin looks like Pauline Kael compared to this guy. The sad part is that he apparently thinks he’s smarter than Ebert, yet rarely shows any evidence that he should even be in the same room with him.

My annoyance with Roeper escalated recently with his reviews of Land of the Dead and Undead. His rationale for giving these movies the dreaded “thumbs down” was simply that he’s “tired of zombie movies” (his exact quote was that he’s “all zombied out”). So therefore, because he’s “tired” of seeing movies of a certain genre, that means they must not be any good.

Talk about fucking lazy criticism! Guess what buddy, just because you dislike a certain genre doesn’t mean you get to unfairly dismiss every film within it. Your job is not to decide that you don’t want to see any more zombie movies. Your job is to see each movie and review it based on its own individual merits. That’s what a critic is supposed to do. I don’t see you dismissing Wedding Crashers just because there have been a lot of wedding comedies in the last few years. Why is this any different?

Yes, we all have our own individual tastes and prejudices. But a review shouldn’t be based solely on them. It’s not your job to tell us a movie is “just another zombie movie” (which Land of the Dead most definitely isn’t); it’s your job to tell us whether or not it’s a good zombie movie. If Roeper had legitimate reasons for not liking either of these movies, he failed to articulate them. It’s no different than saying, “I don’t like this movie because I don’t like this kind of movie.” That’s no more reliable a barometer than the likes of Earl Dittman and company.

Has Roeper ever considered that maybe there’s a reason there have been so many apocalyptic horror films in the last few years? That maybe it expresses something in our collective subconscious, that it may mirror what’s going on in the world at large? I guess that would require more thought than he’s willing (or able) to give.

Similarly, Ebert and Roeper both dismissed Dark Water based solely on the fact that it bore certain thematic similarities to The Ring. Their barely-considered explanation was that “we’ve been here before”, which is basically their way of saying they’re “all Asian horror-ed out”. That’s stupid and lazy enough on the surface, but at its essence Dark Water is simply a ghost story, and we’ve seen hundreds of those over the years! Just because you’ve seen a ghost story recently, that means another one can’t be good too? I don’t understand this kind of thinking. I hate to break this to you guys, but there are no original ideas left – everything that comes out is a variation on something that came before it. Does this mean that everything sucks? Or just everything that’s not highbrow enough for your tastes?

Sure, I’ve got my own prejudices and preferences, just like anyone else. And because I’m not a professional critic, I don’t have to see everything that comes out, which means I don’t see movies that I don’t think I will like. But if someone sent me a copy of The Perfect Man or Rebound or Sisterhood of the Traveling Panties (or whatever it is), I’d give it an honest shot. I really would. And if one of these movies actually entertained me, I’d come out and say so. Any movie can surprise you. And if I like something, I’ll defend it to the end of time. That’s what a critic is supposed to do. It’s not about protecting your image – it’s about being honest and backing that up with an intelligent argument. That’s the whole point. It’s just sad that some critics consider themselves “too good” to bother to tell people whether or not a movie is worth their time and money – isn’t that what we’re here for in the first place?

Having said all that, now it’s time to play “catch-up” on the movies I’ve seen recently but haven’t found the time to write full reviews for:

Batman Begins – yeah, it’s really good. Everybody knows this by now. But am I the only one who was bothered by Katie Holmes? Not because of the whole Cruise-Scientology thing (I find that more amusing than anything), but because she was simply wrong for the part. She seems way too young to be a DA (doesn’t it take several years to work your way up through the ranks?), and she appears to be at least 10 years younger than Bale’s Bruce Wayne, despite the fact that they supposedly grew up together. I know, it’s nitpicking, but when a movie gets so much right, that makes the one thing they screw up that much more hard to take. Then again, I still maintain that Kirsten Dunst (who I don’t mind in other roles) makes a terrible Mary Jane, and no one ever listens to me on that one either. So go figure. Otherwise, pretty awesome movie. *** 1/2

War of the Worlds – wow, are people missing the point on this one or what? This wasn’t meant to be Independence Day 2, OK? It’s obviously a 9/11 allegory (if you missed that, you’re really not paying attention), and it’s a gripping suspense tale in the tradition of Spielberg’s best early work. Of course the alien invasion doesn’t make perfect sense – when you’re in the middle of fucking aliens coming out of the ground and vaporizing people all around you and the shit is hitting the fan, you’re not necessarily going to be clear on why they’re here, what their exact plan is, etc. You’re going to be more concerned with running for your damn life! Besides, since when do alien invasions have to make sense anyway? (Guess what – aliens don’t really exist, you know. Get over it.) Sure, I had my own little nitpicks (why did the van that Cruise stole work when no other vehicles did? And how did he know it would work?), but when a movie is as stunning as this one, you have to let shit like that go. As for the ending – come on, people, it’s Spielberg! Of course the family’s going to be reunited – did you expect it to end with Dakota Fanning getting her head bitten off or something? It would’ve been pretty pointless if Ray had failed to protect his kids, wouldn’t it? You just can’t please some people. Come on, this is classic Spielberg, and that’s never a bad thing in my book. ****

Dark Water – I liked it, dammit! I haven’t seen the original Japanese version, but I thought this was creepy and atmospheric and spooky in all the right ways. Let’s face it, nobody does vulnerable and unstable like the ever-gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, and I thought she kicked ass here. A fine supporting cast (what was up with Tim Roth’s character? I want to see a movie about that guy!), and a smart, subtle story that sneaks up on you when you least expect it rather than hammering every plot point into your head – geez, no wonder people didn’t like it. Not a great film, but certainly one worthy of respect. And it beat the living hell out of The Ring 2, that’s for damn sure. ***

Fantastic Four – eh. I could go either way on this one. It’s more of a missed opportunity than a complete disaster. Some of the decisions were just baffling, but you can’t say that changing things never works either (every superhero movie changes something), so I can live with that. I thought Chiklis rocked (no pun intended), but seriously folks, Jessica Alba cannot act her way out of a paper bag. Yes, she’s incredibly hot. No, she’s not a good actress and she has virtually no screen presence other than said hotness (I still think Kate Bosworth would’ve nailed the part). I could’ve lived without the extreme sports and the shameless product placement and some of the cheesy TV-movie style effects (didn’t they spend any money on this thing?). I do think they somewhat captured the group dynamic, and parts of it were at least superficially fun, so I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to. I wouldn’t say it’s good enough to fully recommend, but it could have come out a lot worse. It could’ve starred Jerry O’Connell as Reed Richards or something equally horrendous. Overall, it’s a “shrug” movie more than a “shake fist in anger” movie. I just can’t get worked up over it, because I’m not 12 years old and have not been for a long time. Sue me. **1/2

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dahl meets Dali! Is it just me, or was Tim Burton the perfect guy to remake this movie? I can’t think of anyone else who could’ve pulled it off as well as he did. Maybe Abel Ferrara. Seriously though, I wasn’t really crazy about the idea of seeing another version of this, but I enjoyed it immensely. Depp is inspired as always as Wonka, alternately spacey and bizarre and purposely cruel and vindictive. But the kids are the real stars of this thing – they’re hysterical in their exaggerated, cartoonish, stereotypical way. You have to admire a “family movie” that acknowledges that kids can be selfish, annoying little bastards and bitches. And I adored Missi Pyle (hugely underrated comic actress) as Violet’s insanely “perfect” mother – she’s just so hideously wrong, like a monster out of Lovecraft, yet strangely sexy at the same time (it’s not just me, right?). I’ve heard lots of criticism that the remake’s more about Burton than Dahl – well, duh! It’s his adaptation, after all. You want the book, read the damn book. The rest of us will enjoy the movie for what it is – a great return to twisted comedy for Burton, and a knockout visual treat. A world of pure imagination, indeed. ***1/2

Well, that covers it for now. I’ve got a very special review coming up soon, hopefully next week, for something very different than the usual summer fare. See you then!

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George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 5, 2005

Directed and written by George A. Romero/starring Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, John Leguizamo, Robert Joy/Universal Pictures – Atmosphere Entertainment

“We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn’t going to solve anything” – Helen Cooper, Night of the Living Dead

Let me start off by acknowledging the obvious – how fucking cool it is to be able to be able to write about a new George Romero Dead film. I say with complete sincerity that it’s truly amazing to be reviewing a film which has taken 20 years to arrive and which stood a good chance of never being made for most of that time. Its very existence can be taken as the closest thing you’ll find in Hollywood to a miracle, and whatever one ultimately thinks of the result, it damn well deserves to be seen just because it’s there.

Land of the Dead is of course the fourth in Romero’s series of zombie flicks. I’m not going to go into the history of these films, because I assume anyone who’s reading this would know them chapter and verse (and if you don’t, it’s time to catch up). The political and sociological subtexts of the Dead films have been well documented (even if the likes of Richard Roeper don’t seem familiar with them), so there’s no need to go into that here. Each of the films is completely different from the others, and each is fascinating in their own way. These aren’t typical horror films – they’re about something, and the beauty of it is that many of the people who watch them don’t even know it.

Beyond all that, what initially drew me to the Dead films is their sense of stark, ongoing terror. These films aren’t “scary” in the traditional “monster jumps out from the shadows” type of horror; instead, they’re documents of an alternate-universe apocalypse, the slow decay of civilization, one reanimated corpse at a time. Unlike most such films, no scientist comes up with a “cure” at the end of the movie. No hero saves the day at the last minute and destroys all of the creatures. Instead, the situation just gets worse and worse, lasting beyond the end of each movie and into the next, and so on. It’s a nightmare that never ends – the shit hits the fan and never gets cleaned up. Now that’s true horror.

Land finds the situation having reached a gradual saturation point. There are now more zombies than there are living humans, and they’ve almost completely overtaken most of the cities, except for a few small outposts. One such place is Fiddler’s Green in what we assume is Romero’s hometown of Pittsburgh (though it was shot in Toronto for budget reasons). Fiddler’s Green is a fancy high-rise apartment building for the remaining wealthy, completely protected from the zombie hordes, and run by corrupt businessman Kaufman (Hopper). Kaufman employs a paramilitary team led by stoic Riley (Baker) and hyper Cholo (Leguizamo) to venture into the zombie-ridden cities in an armored vehicle called Dead Reckoning to obtain food and supplies to keep his little paradise running.

When Kaufman denies Cholo admittance into Fiddler’s Green, Cholo decides to hijack Dead Reckoning and hold it for ransom, intending to do some serious damage if he doesn’t get paid. Riley, who’s sick and tired of the whole thing and just wants out, agrees to get Dead Reckoning back for Kaufman, but only if it’s his last job. He wants to take off to Canada, where rumor has it there are no zombies left.

The amazing thing about Land is how much it feels like a 2005 film – it has the pacing and rhythms of a Jerry Bruckheimer production. While some fans haven’t taken kindly to this, I think it shows that Romero, given studio backing and a decent budget (though only one-quarter of most major genre films) can play with the big boys. Nothing about the film feels “dated” – anyone who thinks of Romero as an outmoded, out-of-touch filmmaker will have to seriously reconsider their position after seeing this. George has often said that he tries to make each Dead film in the style of the time in which it was made, and he’s more than succeeded here. You get the feeling that parts of it are intended as action-movie parody, and if so it’s certainly more accurate than Team America ever was.

Yet this is still very much a Romero movie, as evidenced by the political and social commentary throughout. I’m not going to go into detail about these elements (as I feel they are best discovered and interpreted by the viewer), but I will say there’s plenty of subtext about class struggle here, which has always been a pet theme of Romero’s but has never been explored to this extent before. There are also some veiled references to the current political situation, but to dismiss Land as merely a vitriolic diatribe against the Bush administration would be doing it a disservice. I’ve always felt that Romero simply holds up a mirror to society and says, “this is what’s going on” and leaves the audience to decide for themselves whether his interpretation is correct. Still, I think it takes real guts to make a movie like this in the current climate, and I think we need more filmmakers who are willing to express their personal beliefs through their work. Romero is one of the few who can pull off something like this, and you get the feeling that he really doesn’t care if anyone’s upset by it. It’s like he’s saying, “hey, this is how I see things, this is what the movie’s about, and if you don’t like it, tough shit”. What really makes it subversive is that he delivers these messages in the kind of film that will be dismissed by some as “mindless entertainment”. That’s pretty cool. We need more of that, and we need guys like Romero now more than ever.

Of course, some audience members will be there only for the gore, and Land doesn’t disappoint on that level either. For an R-rated studio production, there’s a surprising amount of nasty, gruesome stuff here, and nobody does it more creatively than George and company. I’m not particularly a gorehound, I don’t mind it when it’s done well and there’s a reason for it, but I don’t necessarily need it either. But when you’re dealing with flesh-eating zombies that tear off limbs and rip bodies apart, it’s kinda dishonest not to show that stuff, isn’t it? Unlike most Hollywood movies, violence isn’t easy or simple in Romero films – people don’t just die quickly and painlessly. They get killed, and it’s bloody and gory and nasty and fucked up. That’s what death really is. And in Romero’s world, there’s actually a fate worse than that. That’s some disturbing shit.

Is Land of the Dead a “classic” or a “masterpiece”? I don’t know. It takes time for a movie to obtain that kind of status. We’ll have to see how it holds up in 10 or 20 years. What we do know is that each of the Dead films have been misunderstood and underappreciated by many upon their first release, and this one is no different. I think if you’re expecting another Night, Dawn or even Day, you’re naturally going to be disappointed, because this isn’t that film. Land is a different movie for a different time, and it has to stand on its own. Again, each of the films is different from its predecessors, and that’s absolutely the way it should be.

But I do think it’s an excellent piece of work on its own terms. It shows Romero on a level of technical proficiency that he’s really never worked at before – he’s still no Spielberg or Kubrick, but few people are. He did some fantastic work with his cast – Simon Baker has never made the kind of impression he does here (I completely forgot how ineffectual he was in The Ring 2 while watching this). Dennis Hopper does his best work in ages (not that that’s saying much, given his litany of straight-to-video stuff over the past few years), toning his usual raving-madman shtick down a bit while still giving an effective villainous performance. Robert Joy is a total scene-stealer as Riley’s “slow” buddy Charlie, and even Leguizamo, who can be annoying in some films, comes off well. Asia Argento’s prostitute character Slack may not be entirely necessary – but she’s so fucking cool in it (not to mention hot), who cares? Just the fact that Dario Argento’s daughter is in a George Romero movie is so badass that I don’t even care that she’s mostly just along for the ride.

Is this a perfect film? Probably not. But frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a fuck. Land is such a blast of old-school mentality combined with newfangled skills that it’s a treat regardless of any little nitpicks people might have. I’ve heard people say it’s derivative of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, and I’ll admit that thought crossed my mind while watching it. But given that Escape is one of my personal all-time favorite films, the similarities really didn’t bother me. Apocalypse is apocalypse, what are you gonna do? Land is definitely a throwback in many ways, and that’s a good thing. It’s a throwback to a time when genre films meant something more than cheap thrills, when horror films were made with care and skill and had actual ideas behind them. This is how it’s supposed to be done – that’s the point, ladies and gentlemen. Not whether it’s as good as the previous films, not whether it’s better than the recent zombie movies (though for my money they’re worlds apart), not how much money it cost or makes. The point is that it’s damn good, and totally Romero. What more do you people need?

Is it a perfect film? It’s perfect for me, and it’ll be perfect for many other people, and that’s all that matters.

And Mr. Roeper – the zombies are a metaphor. M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R. Look it up.

**** 7/5/05

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Apocalypse Right Freakin’ Now; or, The Smog is Falling

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 1, 2005

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty sick of hearing about how Hollywood’s boxoffice is supposedly in a “slump”. This multibillion-dollar industry, which does everything it can to keep a practical monopoly over the worldwide film business, is having a big pity party because it isn’t making quite as much money as last year. Well, at the risk of sounding immature, boo fucking hoo, OK?

Never mind that the general economy in this country is in the proverbial shitter (and if you don’t believe that, you should live where I live) and gas prices are so high that people are cutting back on extravagances like food and clothing. We’re supposed to feel sorry for those rich Hollywood executives because they’re not raking in as much of our cash as they’d prefer? Screw them. I feel so sad that the brilliant minds in charge of such classics as Rebound and The Perfect Man might not get their million-dollar bonuses this year. Let ‘em eat cake, I say.

Seriously though…every single article I’ve read that has examined this phenomenon has simply compared this year’s boxoffice take with last year’s. Last year they made more than the year before, this year they made less than last year. Well guess what, did they ever think that maybe last year was just a really good year? Or consider the possibility that there may be, you know, larger issues involved, and maybe even more important things to worry about?

Movie City News, which is more obsessed with boxoffice revenues than I am with Kristen Bell, recently posted an article which claimed that this year’s summer releases, taken as a whole, have generated only $32 million less than last summer’s so far. $32 million? That’s it? That’s a drop in the bucket. That’s pocket change for Hollywood. The studio execs spend more than that every year on cocaine and Asian hookers. This is what all the doom and gloom is about? It’s like Hugh Hefner complaining that he doesn’t get laid enough.

When did the media completely lose perspective? So the studios are making a little less than last year. That doesn’t mean the industry is on the verge of crumbling. Just because not as many people are going to the theaters as there were 12 months ago doesn’t mean that NOBODY is going. When you consider all the different revenue streams that the studios have to pull from – from DVD and cable to foreign rights to catalog titles (industry speak for “old movies”) – I can’t exactly see Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony, Fox, Disney and Universal closing up shop anytime soon. Come on, let’s get serious.

I may not be an economist, but I do know that every business has its ups and downs. Sometimes profit tapers off. Sometimes it’s just not possible to make a bigger profit than you did before. Does that mean you pack it in and start selling fruit by the side of the road? I think not. The world would shut down if everybody quit their jobs just because they weren’t getting a raise every year. Why should the entertainment industry be any different?

What the naysayers don’t seem to understand is, there are always going to be people who like to go to the movies. There will always be people who go to the latest blockbuster on opening weekend. And there will always be slow periods. That’s just the nature of the business. These so-called experts claim that DVD is killing the theatrical business, but the fact is, people who go to movies often are more likely to buy or rent DVDs. Just as the people who go to movies often are more likely to subscribe to pay cable channels or order from pay-per-view services. These are people who like to watch movies! Just because other avenues are available doesn’t keep them from going to the theater. It’s the people who rarely or never went to movies in the first place that are just as unlikely to go as ever, and maybe even less likely in a bad economy.

A lot of the pundits have made the assumption that audiences “just aren’t interested in what Hollywood has to offer”. A ridiculous statement given that this is actually one of the best summers for movies in years, in terms of quality and in terms of making films with name recognition. I mean, come on, we’ve got the final Star Wars movie out there, a Spielberg sci-fi thriller based on a well-known classic novel, a new Batman movie that’s actually good, the first George Romero zombie movie in 20 years… whether or not the boxoffice is down, you can’t tell me that people just don’t care about these movies. I’m sorry, but that’s complete crap. It’s the same argument that says people have stopped listening to music because CD sales are down. Am I the only one who realizes how absurd that sounds?

Let’s put it this way: it’s like saying that if fewer people are having sex, that means nobody gets horny anymore. Does that logic necessarily follow? Of course not. You don’t stop wanting something just because you’re not getting it. Getting it makes you want more of it; not getting it just makes you want it that much more. The same principle applies to pretty much anything – movies, music, etc. People who like to read a lot don’t just stop reading without a good reason (lack of time, for instance). They don’t stop going to the bookstore just because the media tells them “nobody reads anymore”. And people who don’t read often aren’t going to change their habits either. Human nature just isn’t that easily swayed. You’re either into something or you’re not.

What Hollywood really needs is a change in perspective. It’s like they expect more from audiences than we can possibly deliver. A lot of people are going to see War of the Worlds, no doubt about it. But is everyone going to see it? No. As much as Hollywood would like to believe otherwise, individuals have minds of their own. Some people just aren’t interested in the subject matter. Some won’t go because they don’t like science fiction movies. Others won’t have the money to spare. Still others will find it too dark and frightening to take their children to, and therefore won’t go themselves. Everyone who doesn’t go will have their own reasons, and those reasons may not have anything to do with the film itself. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t sell everything to everybody.

So let’s lower our expectations a little, shall we? Let’s stop treating the boxoffice as if it’s the be-all and end-all of the cinema experience. It amazes me how these analysts obsess over the weekend tally like it’s The Word From On High. It may be hard for them to believe, but the average person doesn’t know or care if a movie cost $6 million, $60 million or $160 million – the ticket price is the same. All they care about is whether or not they want to see it. For a typical audience member, worrying about whether a studio makes its money back is absurd. And it’s not something we can control in any event – all we can do is see the movies we want to see, and hopefully enjoy them.

It’s so bizarre to me when a movie like Land of the Dead is considered a “disappointment” because it “only” opened at #5 with $10.2 million. Suddenly it’s written off as being a flop – what the HELL? This is an R-rated horror film opening in a competitive summer season without an incredible amount of promotion – that’s actually a decent chunk of change under those circumstances. When you consider how much worse it could have done, even this modest amount of success should be considered a victory. We console ourselves with the knowledge that it only cost $15 million to make, and should eventually make a decent profit on video. What does it matter if it cost $15 or $50 million? The fans should be celebrating the fact that there’s a new Romero Dead film out there, that by some miracle it got made at all and it’s playing in theaters nationwide! Isn’t that what really matters? Yes, I wanted it to do well, to avoid that very perception that if it doesn’t make money it’s a “failure”. Why does everything have to be “#1 at the boxoffice” and “a runaway blockbuster smash” in order to be validated in our minds?

It used to be, not so long ago, that a film could open to modest business and build on word of mouth to develop a following and generate a decent take. I don’t think that time is necessarily gone – it just seems that people ignore it when it happens, or consider it a fluke. But the obsession with boxoffice has gotten so out of hand that if a movie doesn’t open big, no one goes to it after that. Money has become synonymous with artistic success – if no one else went to see it, it must not be worth seeing. That’s so incredibly sad. And so incredibly stupid.

You know what I think? Fuck the boxoffice. OK? I’m sick to death of it. Really, what do we care how much money a movie makes? None of that cash goes in our pockets. I know, we vote with our money and all that. That’s true, but only up to a point. Certain genres never go away, not completely – whether it’s horror or sci-fi or action or romantic comedies or whatever. They go in cycles, but they’ll always keep making them, because they know there’s a built-in audience out there. No need to worry about that.

It would be great if Land had made a ton of money, if it had surprised everyone and beaten all the overhyped blockbusters, and suddenly George Romero was the hottest director in America. But those are extremely unrealistic expectations. Hey, I would love for everybody in America to be listening to Interpol and watching Veronica Mars and for David Lynch films to be making $100 million. Those things just aren’t going to happen. I personally love all of those things, but they’re for a certain audience that gets them and loves them deeply. They’re not for the average Joe who listens to Nickelback and watches Fear Factor and thinks Revenge of the Nerds is the greatest film ever made. You know? When you think about it from that perspective, a #5 opening with just over $10 million is pretty fucking good for a George Romero movie.

I really loved the movie, and I hope to get a review of it up before it’s out of theaters. I saw War of the Worlds today, and really loved that too. Go figure. When you think about it, it’s kind of ironic that the two best films out there are essentially apocalyptic, end of the world, “shit hits the fan” movies. It’s pretty odd that these films reflect the current state of affairs in Hollywood in general, where everyone seems to think the end is nigh and things are falling apart once and for all. I’d just like to see some solid evidence to back that up before I start hiding in the basement.

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