Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Archive for August, 2010

Boxed Office: What to Do When Awesome Movies Bomb

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 29, 2010

I don’t think it’s any big secret that the current obsession with boxoffice numbers is bad for movies in general. It keeps people focused on financial success rather than quality work, and drives the mainstream audience away from films that they might actually enjoy just because they didn’t have a huge opening weekend. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. But lately I’m seeing a trend (especially online) that disturbs me. There seems to be a growing school of thought that certain movies only appeal to “film geeks”, and that their inability to spread to the mainstream somehow proves their lack of artistic worth. It’s the “nobody cares” argument, and some really terrific films have been caught in this dilemma. To be fair, it does seem like there’s a bit of a disconnect between the films that get raved about on sites like AICN (and often, mine) and what the general public is interested in seeing. Films like Grindhouse, Watchmen, Kick-Ass and now Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are examples of recent films that seem to be appreciated by the “geek crowd” but didn’t really register with the masses. Needless to say, those were all films that I greatly enjoyed. I think there’s a problem here, not with the films themselves but with the way they are perceived and processed by mainstream moviegoers. Why is it that when a film is “different” the masses register it as “not for me”?

b8qxd.jpgFor the purposes of this discussion, let’s divide the audience (as I think it is divided in real life) into two categories: the “film geek” section, who are generally knowledgeable about film, follow the industry online, read reviews and interviews, have favorite directors, have a large movie collection, etc. and the “normal” people who just go see whatever looks the most appealing at the time and don’t give it any kind of deeper thought. If you go to the cineplex with any sort of regularity, you’re going to encounter the latter quite a bit. These are the people who go to movies like Marmaduke and Vampires Suck and the Alvin and the Chipmunks kind of stuff. You know, the crap that we wouldn’t be caught dead at. Yet sometimes they seem to wander into “our” movies as well, and their reactions to what they see can often be quite odd. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve really liked a film, only to walk out of the theater hearing people say things like, “that sucked!!!” or (in whiny girl voice) “I didn’t like it… it was weird.” This happened to me just yesterday at The Last Exorcism (which I thought was really good) – the audience actually seemed let down that they weren’t getting a typical exorcism movie with all the bells and whistles. Which is exactly what I liked about it, that it subverts your expectations and still delivers a frightening and disturbing movie. That apparently didn’t register with those particular people, and while the film is doing well so far, I expect it to drop off sharply once word-of-mouth spreads to the regular Joes. And that’s kind of sad, but what can you do about it? You can’t go up to each and every one of these people and argue with them. “You just didn’t get it, man!” I mean, you could, but it probably wouldn’t do much good.

I honestly think that these people often have a kind of intellectual disconnect that keeps them from appreciating original ideas and new concepts. If a film’s story doesn’t play out exactly as they expected it to, they seem to emotionally rebel against it and dismiss it as being “weird”. I can understand having a genuine critical reaction, but this is something more basic and primal than that. It’s as if they actually want to see the exact same things, over and over again, and anything that digresses from that somehow offends their sensibilities. Whereas a true film fan is excited by originality and creativity, the “normals” seem to have violent reactions to it. Don’t make them think about what they’re watching, don’t give them something new to mull over. And god forbid you don’t give them their beautiful happy ending. Any sort of ambiguity – forget about it. It’s not just a matter of taste; they literally can’t seem to process the unexpected as a positive experience. And when those movies don’t do well at the boxoffice, they get to point their fingers and say, “see – I toldja so! I’m not the only one!”

The problem is that this mentality seems to be invading the “film geek” crowd as well. About 99% of the online discussion about Scott Pilgrim seems to be about its lack of financial success; precious few seem to be actually saying anything about the film itself, whether they love it or hate it. Myself included, granted. People who love it are theorizing about why it didn’t do better, while people who hate it are crowing, “see – nobody cares about this stuff”. The actual film and its content seem to be irrelevant at this point. What I don’t understand is why the people who love the film (or any film) can’t just love it – why do we need the validation of mainstream success? Why does anyone care whether or not Universal makes its money back? That’s the mentality of a studio executive, not a film fan. Think about it – did anyone back in the 80’s give a shit whether or not Repo Man or Weird Science or Real Genius or Big Trouble in Little Chinaimproved the cash flow of their respective studios? Hell no! We were just happy that Hollywood was making movies that we liked. If anyone had suggested that those movies shouldn’t have been made because they didn’t generate enough profit for their corporate overlords, the response would have been something like, “Get the fuck out of here!” And rightly so. We loved those movies because they were awesome, not because the rest of the world validated them for us. If they didn’t make money, that was Hollywood’s problem, not ours.

Look, I understand the argument – and I’ve even made this argument in the past – that the movies that make money decide what gets made in the future. And I believe that to be true. I believe that you vote with your money, and if you like certain kinds of films, you should put your money where your mouth is and pay to see them. Absolutely. But if that doesn’t happen, it shouldn’t take anything away from the film itself as a work of art or as a piece of entertainment. Just because the majority of people don’t appreciate it, that shouldn’t matter to people who really love movies. There are lots of great films that have cult followings that didn’t really cross over to the “normals”. Are Fight Club, Taxi Driver, Blue Velvet or Apocalypse Now diminished in our eyes just because the popular kids don’t watch them? Of course not. These are the people who like the Twilight movies, for christ’s sake; who gives a shit what they think? Does anyone actually think that Edgar Wright or Michael Cera are never going to work again? Get real (and frankly I don’t understand people’s problem with Cera; I honestly think the kid’s fucking hilarious). You want to know what really happened to Scott Pilgrim? They released it on the same weekend as two big movies with mainstream appeal – The Expendables and Eat Pray Love. The guys went to Expendables, the ladies went to Eat. That left precious little for anything else, much less a movie that appealed mostly to comic-book readers and gamers. That’s the bottom line. But frankly, I think it pretty much did what it was going to do financially. They took a risk by putting it out there the way they did, and it didn’t pay off. That’s it. It doesn’t take away one iota from the film as an artistic work. Maybe people will catch up with it on DVD and cable. Maybe they won’t. It doesn’t affect my appreciation of it either way. Why should it?

I don’t understand why we, as proud self-proclaimed film geeks, can’t just take a stand and say, “you know what, fuck the boxoffice, we love what we love and the hell with anyone who doesn’t get it.” Why can’t we just celebrate when something awesome actually gets made within the studio system instead of another Marmaduke? Isn’t that what being a true “film geek” is supposed to be about? Loving movies, regardless of how much (or how little) money they make? I didn’t start to hate Inception when it became a smash hit – so why should I dislike Scott Pilgrim for not becoming one? The dollars involved should have no bearing on our appreciation of excellent filmmaking. Nor should the mainstream audience’s lack of interest. Look at it this way – classic films like The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca and Citizen Kane were all flops when they were released. Now they’re beloved by millions of film fans. Yet there were tons of mediocre movies that were hits at the time that are completely forgotten now. The “normals” are often wrong, and it’s pretty much always been that way. So maybe it’s time for us to just say “fuck ’em” and love the things we love, with or without them. All this armchair boxoffice analysis is just taking our focus away from what we should be writing and talking about, which is the movies we love and why we love them.

And just for the record, my 13-year-old nephew loved Scott Pilgrim. He was dying to see it and didn’t really care what anyone else thought. So maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for the future after all. (“There he goes, talking about his damn nephew again…”) I’m not saying this will happen, but if I’m still around in 50 years and kids are rocking out to Sex Bob-omb, I’m gonna laugh my ass off. You never know.

Advertisements

Posted in Psycho Therapy | Leave a Comment »

Case 39 finally getting released?

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 19, 2010

According to Entertainment Tonight, which premiered the new trailer tonight, Paramount is finally dusting off Case 39 on Oct. 1.For those of you don’t know or recall, this is the Christian Alvart (Pandorum) – directed horror film starring Renee Zellweger, Bradley Cooper, Ian McShane and child actress Jodelle Ferland (Tideland, Silent Hill) which has been on the shelf for at least three years now. I don’t know if anybody actually cares about this, but I thought it was interesting given that I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of this on the Web. Entertainment Tonight is of course owned by Paramount, so it just may be for real. The last known release date was Jan. 1st, 2010, and of course that never happened.

poster_case39.jpg

I’m actually kind of curious to see this flick. Whenever a movie changes release dates as many times as this one has, it makes me all the more curious to check it out, even though that’s usually a sign of disaster. ET wasn’t specific about whether the release would be wide or limited (for the record, I don’t actually watch that show on a regular basis, I just happened to see they were doing a piece on this movie and decided to tune in. OK?). Of course, Oct. 1st is the date that two very film geek-friendly films are being released: David Fincher’s Facebook movie The Social Network, and Matt Reeves’ Let Me In, the remake of the excellent foreign vampire film Let the Right One In. So it may be that Paramount is planning on sneaking this one in under the radar. Or they’re hoping to attract non-geeks who don’t know about the movie’s tortured history. Either way, it should be interesting to see what finally happens with this thing. Since no one else is talking about this apparently, I thought I’d throw my two cents in. I really liked Pandorum and his disturbing German film Antibodies, and I think Alvart’s a talented up-and-comer, so fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, I keep reading that John Carpenter’s The Ward, his first feature in almost a decade, is being released on Sept. 24. But I have yet to discover who is actually releasing the independent production, so I don’t know if that’s trustworthy or not. Release dates can be a pain in the ass to follow sometimes. Someone clearly needs to make an announcement on this sucker.

So, what’s up? I know I’ve been away for awhile. I was planning to write a long column comparing The Expendables to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and go on and on about how they’re two films with very different views of manhood, blah blah blah. I had it all worked up in my head, ready to type. And then I suddenly realized that I was completely full of shit and that everything I was going to write was colored by my own personal feelings on the subject. So I decided to scrap it. Trust me, I did all of us a favor.

For the record, I kind of enjoyed Expendables, though I don’t think it’s a great action film by any means. I think some people are giving it a little more love than it deserves due mostly to nostalgia. As much as I love action films, I think this particular kind of action film is something we’ve gotten past. Action heroes no longer have to be muscle-bound steroid jockeys delivering one-liners as they blow people away. The influx of Asian films by John Woo, Jackie Chan, etc. in the early 90’s showed Americans that action movies could be about so much more than that. Kind of ironic that Jet Li is even in this, since frankly I think he’s so much cooler than the rest of the cast put together. He’s short and Chinese, and he kicks fucking ass. That’s more impressive than any number of professional wrestlers in my book. But that’s just me.

The problem I had with Expendables is that while it is a throwback to 80’s action flicks, it’s more of a throwback to the cheap Cannon films of the era than to the genuinely good examples of the genre (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, etc). It even looks cheap, like they spent most of the money on the cast and had to make do with what was left over. Look, I’ve always liked Stallone as a screen presence, but as an action director he’s no more than passable. He seems to have forgotten what made those movies work in the first place – the underdog element. At no point do we ever feel that our heroes’ backs are against the wall, that they have to rise to a challenge in any way. They go to this fictional island country, kill a bunch of people, they actually go home, then they decide to go back and wipe everybody else out with their obviously superior firepower. That’s the movie. They are never in a situation where we feel like they’re in genuine danger, or they have to go, “uh-oh – what do we do now?” They’re a little too good at killing people and in not being killed in the process. There’s no challenge, therefore no tension. There are some entertaining moments, of course – the Arnold-Bruce cameo scene is priceless (and probably added at least $10 million to the boxoffice). But I was never psyched up by it, never really “got into it”. And anyone who knows me knows that I love this stuff. Even a half-decent action flick can wind me up, and this just didn’t. It’s fun at times, but there just isn’t much going on there. Apparently audiences disagree, and hey, I’m glad they enjoyed it. If its success leads to more action films being made (hopefully better ones), then I’m all for it. I just kinda felt… been there, done that, seen it blow up a thousand times already.

And Scott Pilgrim is just an awesome movie. Screw the online backlash and see it as soon as you possibly can. That’s all for now. Talk to you later!

Posted in Film Reviews | Leave a Comment »

The Kids Are All Wrong: or, In Space No One Can Hear You Complain

Posted by CinemaPsycho on August 1, 2010

I’m starting to worry about the next generation of film geeks. Specifically, I’m wondering whether or not there’s even going to be one.

I recently had a conversation with a friend of my 13-year-old nephew, who is the same age and is a reasonably intelligent kid. This is a kid who plays guitar and makes YouTube videos, so he’s not a completely unimaginative person. Apparently he saw a list of the “50 Scariest Movies” online and has decided to watch them all, but is just getting started. He was impressed by The Ring and 28 Days Later, which at least shows a modicum of taste. However, he was disappointed by Alien, which he found “boring” and “not scary at all”. Yikes.

alienmouth.jpg

Needless to say, I was pretty flabbergasted by this statement. I’ve always thought of Ridley Scott’s film as being one of those movies you just can’t deny or argue about. It just works. While I was too young to see it during its theatrical run (at least my parents wouldn’t have let me at 10 years old), I still vividly remember watching it on the ABC Sunday Night Movie as a kid and being scared as hell by it. And that was the edited for TV version! Having seen it many times since, I can honestly say that Alien has never failed to work on my nerves like a fucking jackhammer. It’s considered a classic for a reason – because it’s brilliant filmmaking and expertly suspenseful and frightening.

Now, obviously I don’t expect a 13-year-old to know anything about film or to have refined tastes. But it blows my mind to think that someone could watch Alien for the first time (especially at that age) and not find it even the least bit scary. I’m not sure how that’s even possible. The chest-bursting scene alone should go down as one of the all-time great scary scenes! How can someone not watch that and be affected by it? Good gravy, man! But for me, the thing that makes Alien so frightening (besides the awesome alien creation by H.R. Giger of course) is the cold, oppressive atmosphere of deep space and the labyrinthine corridors of the Nostromo. Just being stuck in that environment for two hours is disturbing enough even without a murderous alien creature running around. Maybe that’s not something that translates to today’s teenager who is raised on a steady diet of zombie-killing video games.

I really didn’t know what to say to this kid – how do you argue the merits of a bona fide classic to someone who doesn’t get it? It’s Alien, what’s not to understand? I just kind of shrugged it off and said, “well, depends on what you find scary, I guess.” What else can you say? It’s like trying to explain to a child why Citizen Kane or The Godfather or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Psycho are among the all-time great films. If you have to ask why, you’re not going to get it. And I don’t even know this kid that well, so I wasn’t about to get into a whole lecture about it with him. I guess I should have suggested that he check out Cameron’s Aliens if he wanted something more action-packed. As much as I love Aliens on its own terms (and I know some people prefer it), it’s Scott’s original that will always be the Alien movie for me.

But the conversation definitely got me thinking about the new generation of kids, and I’m really wondering if the “film geek” label will eventually become a thing of the past. Kids in general don’t seem to really care about movies that much. When I was that age, movies were the big thing, at least for me and most of the kids I knew. Going to see a movie in a theater was an event, not just something to do. Of course, back then the only real competition was Atari and goofy-ass TV shows like Knight Rider. It’s no wonder we got so wrapped up in the works of Spielberg and Lucas. Now, kids have Facebook and Halo and whatever’s on their iPods all competing for their attention. I’d say my nephew is a little more into movies than most, mainly due to my influence I’m sure. We have lots of conversations about various movie-related subjects (last night we talked about the ratings system after seeing Dinner for Schmucks together, which is hilarious by the way), and he really seems interested in the way things were in “the old days”, back when we watched movies on VHS tapes and rode to school on dinosaurs.

Even he has his limits though. For several weeks now I’ve been trying to get him to watch Jaws. Like Alien, it’s one of the all-time great horror films, and he’s at the perfect age to see it for the first time.

kids-playing-a-video-game.jpg

He expressed some interest in seeing it (Spielberg being one of the few directors he knows by name), so I let him borrow my DVD copy. And for weeks it’s been sitting there next to his XBox, just waiting to be watched, while he spends hours and hours playing Gears of War 2. One would think that a 13-year-old would be psyched to watch a movie about a man-eating shark. It’s not like I’m trying to get him to watch Solaris or Battleship Potemkin. It’s fucking Jaws, the original blockbuster Hollywood movie! Hated by film snobs from coast to coast. Do I really have to tie the kid to a chair to get him to watch this? Honestly, if you can’t get a kid to watch Jaws, then maybe there’s no hope for film geekdom.

Maybe I was the exception to the rule here, but when I was a kid, I was fascinated by old movies. Whenever one was on TV, I’d make a point of watching it, whether it was The Three Musketeers or Creature from the Black Lagoon. I was well versed in the films of Hitchcock before I graduated high school. And this was at a time when classic films weren’t readily available (there certainly wasn’t an outlet like Turner Classic Movies then), so you basically had to catch them whenever you could. And it was pure curiosity on my part – it wasn’t like anyone was encouraging me to watch this stuff. There was no organized film-geek culture where I lived, and there certainly was no Internet to recommend films to me. As much as I grew up watching the films of Spielberg and Lucas, I also grew up watching Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Bogart, Cagney, both Hepburns, Newman and Redford, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis, Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Clint Eastwood, even freakin’ Shirley Temple. I knew these names because they were movie stars, and it didn’t matter how old they were or how long ago their last hit was. And I wouldn’t have called myself any kind of expert on anything back then – I was just a kid who loved to watch movies, like lots of other kids.

These days, kids don’t seem much interested in anything that came before they were born. With rare exceptions like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and that’s mostly because those franchises have come back into public view with new entries. Kids today don’t know most of those names, and if they do it’s only because they heard their parents mention them. Or maybe their grandparents. My nephew doesn’t even know who Chevy Chase is, much less anyone who came before him. He only knows Bill Murray from Ghostbusters, and as the voice of Garfield for god’s sake. That’s just sad. He knows Dan Aykroyd as “that other guy from Ghostbusters”. He’s never seen a good Eddie Murphy movie. He’s only seen one Mel Brooks movie – Spaceballs. He’s never seen a James Bond movie or a Peter Sellers Pink Panther or a Dirty Harry movie. Forget about Hitchcock or anything from the pre-70’s era. He barely knows the 80’s, for crying out loud! Foreign and indie films are completely off his radar. I would love to help the kid out, give him a little casual education, but I can’t even get him to watch Jaws! Do you really think he’s going to sit still for Rear Window or North by Northwest?

I know, he’s 13 years old, there’s still plenty of time. But I have to wonder if any kids these days can really be called “budding film geeks”. When kids are finding Alien boring, what hope is there for them to discover Kurosawa? Or even Woody Allen? I don’t see it happening. I know, I know – these are different times and kids have their own movies and their own movie stars. I get that. But it feels like something’s being lost here. I know not everyone’s meant to be a film obsessive like me, people do have other interests. But the whole concept of being a “film geek” seems to be aging, and I don’t see today’s kids picking up the slack for the future. They’re far too distracted by other forms of entertainment to really be interested in exploring film in any depth. And it seems like the only way to interest them in new movies is to completely throw out any sense of subtlety, atmosphere or originality (in other words, the things that make films interesting), and just feed them lowest-common-denominator junk like Transformers that they can absorb and discard. Sad really.

All of which makes me wonder about Scott’s forthcoming Alien prequel. Coming 30-plus years after the original, what will it be like? Will he rely on atmosphere and craftsmanship like he did in 1979, or will he try to appeal to the kids who find the original “boring” and “not scary”? Will anyone under 40 even care by the time it comes out? Will it enhance the original classic, or just ruin it? I’m pretty curious about the upcoming prequel to The Thing as well for the same reasons. Do they really expect to get a young audience with prequels to films that came out before they were even born? I have to wonder. Wouldn’t Hollywood be better off coming up with new ideas and new franchises than constantly mining the past for inspiration? I know these titles still have some cachet, but eventually the original audience is going to die out (sorry, but it’s inevitable) and the kids aren’t going to care about this old stuff. And they won’t have anything to call their own, except maybe Twilight. Now that’s a scary thought.

Posted in Psycho Therapy | Leave a Comment »