Random Factoid #554

2 02 2011

February could be a lot worse, but I’m wondering if I’ll bother to open my wallet for a 2011 release (thanks to the godsend that is free screenings, I have yet to pay for a movie that opens this year) any time this month.  Do studios really just want everyone to go see “The King’s Speech” and “True Grit” again, enough so that they’ll dump “The Roommate” and “Sanctum” on us?  There are few rays of mainstream hope, mainly emanating from “I Am Number Four.”

Elisabeth Rappe of Film.com shares in my lamenting:

“February is the dumping ground for bad films. If a film is originally set for a particular date — say, October 5, 2011 — and is suddenly yanked and shoved into February, it is the death knell. You know it’s not going to be worth your time or money to see, and the reason we know this is because we’ve been lured to many a lousy winter film in the past. Go back just 10 years, and you’ll see that February has boasted such great films as ‘Reindeer Games,’ ‘Snow Day,’ ‘Down to Earth,’ ‘Valentine,’ ‘Hannibal,’ ‘Rollerball,’ ‘Daredevil,’ ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,’ ‘Against the Ropes’ … the list just goes on and on into sheer dollar bin misery. The box-office returns tell a sad state of desperation. ‘Snow Day’ opened at No. 3 on February 11, 2000, and it wasn’t because it was a good film, it’s because there was nothing else to see.

The entire month is a pretty bleak slate, but the real DOA date has been distilled to the fine point of the first weekend of February. These aren’t just bad films, they’re the worst of any given year. Search them at random. February 2, 2005: ‘Unleashed.’ February 3, 2006: ‘When a Stranger Calls.’ February 1, 2008: ‘Over Her Dead Body,’ ‘Strange Wilderness,’ and ‘The Eye’. Wretched. Just wretched.

Why is poor February, who never did anything to anyone, the land of the lousy film? Why is its first weekend a cinematic graveyard? Hollywood might tell me that it’s traditionally a time of poor returns, that polling shows audiences like to see ‘Captain America’ in summertime, and that it’s too far out to risk releasing an award contender. (Not always so. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ was released on February 14, 1991, and went on to win Best Picture. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ was a January 1999 release. It can happen.)

Considering that studios are becoming more and more desperate to milk the box-office dollar, and there are only so many weeks to the summer season, why not start using February to unload a few of your flashiest popcorn flicks? Instead of jockeying for a good July date, why not release a Harry Potter or a Transformers in February? Would audiences truly shy away from seeing a Transformers movie simply because it was released in winter? A good and bankable film doesn’t need a historic summer weekend. It just needs a screen. Considering more and more films are being made simply on name recognition — hence the lust for remakes or big comic book properties — it stands to reason that audiences would flock to Superman in February.”

I think it’s about time that studios ditched the whole “open everything big in summer” mentality.  Sleeper hits like “Taken” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” have shown that audiences are willing to flock to movies with good buzz in the winter, and prestige pics like “Shutter Island” can open well and have staying power with very few quality alternatives.

Quite frankly, I’m ready for 2011 to start making a name for itself.  I’m running out of 2010 movies to see again while I wait.

Random Factoid #553

1 02 2011

I doubt many people other than the dedicated fans or the obsessive free promotion-seekers heard about the “I Kept My Eyes Open for 127 Hours” campaign.  Fox Searchlight turned the film’s marketing weak point – people passing out during the graphic amputation scene – into a gimmick to reward the tough moviegoers out there and essentially dare those who hadn’t scene it.

Although I have only limited experience in marketing and advertising, this at first seemed like a strange campaign.  When they initiated it, “127 Hours” had largely run its course in movie theaters, and the awards buzz was beginning to die down.  It felt like just too little, too late.

I got my T-shirt this week after going up some rather strange alleys to get in contact with a Fox Searchlight representative to get a larger size (because I just can’t squeeze into a medium).  I wore it proudly to school and to rehearsal, although under a sweatshirt most of the day as the Houston weather was unseasonably cold, and everyone that saw it had to comment on it.  One friend is even heading to see it over the weekend.

So, Fox Searchlight, consider this a success in goading curiosity.  You’re welcome for sending $20 your way – plus another $10 for me to see it again this weekend.

Random Factoid #552

31 01 2011

Today in my English class, we talked about how the system of moviegoing we have in place skewers our opinions of what we watch (as a branch of another conversation).  The perfect example given by one of my classmates was Oscar season: now, you don’t go see “The King’s Speech,” you go see the critically-acclaimed Oscar nominated “The King’s Speech.”  These are two entirely different beasts, and the expectations are skewered entirely.  The experiences completely changes as you watch a movie to check off boxes of approval, not just watching to watch.

That got me thinking: is it possible to see a movie without expectations?  To have the pure experience of moviegoing in our hands?

The closest thing I could think of was film festivals.  Even if we haven’t heard a review of a movie, we make assumptions based on the genre, the stars, the director, the trailer, and even other advertisements.  But at a film festival like Sundance, people just walk into movies with little to no idea what they will see.  And what we get are the best indicators of a movie’s actual worth.  (Judging by reactions, “Like Crazy” is great.  No one had ever heard of Felicity Jones before the movie, and based on the performance alone, she has been lauded … well, like crazy.)

I’d love to attend a film festival like Sundance or South by Southwest (Cannes and Venice are way out of my price range) simply to have this experience of unadulterated moviewatching.  I want to watch a movie to watch a movie, not fill out an approval ballot in my head.  I don’t think we were destined to watch movies like this – thanks a lot, mass media.

Random Factoid #551

30 01 2011

I didn’t get to watch the SAG awards live, but I came home to my parents watching a replay.  I asked instantly if “The King’s Speech” took Best Ensemble, to which they replied yes.  As much as I like the movie, I don’t think it deserved the honor, so I blurted out a four-letter expletive that begins with the letter s.

I retreated into my room where I did some homework in a rather surly mood.  Everything had been going just fine before that – I got to meet country star Pat Green at my church and listen to him sing from a proximity of only a few feet!  And it wasn’t the homework either.  I came to the realization that it was the freaking SAG Awards that put me in such a foul state.

I then slowly removed myself from the mood by reminding myself that it’s just a game; the awards season only vindicates our opinion, it doesn’t make them.  While it helps to write history, it doesn’t write anyone’s mind nowadays.  Or at least anyone with a mind of their own.

I remember being in a pretty gross state after 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire” sweep, which came at the expense of plenty of movies which I liked much more at the time.  It’s kind of pathetic, and it’s a New Year’s Resolution for 2012 that I’m making 11 months early – not to let something as silly as an awards show dictate my mood.

Random Factoid #550

29 01 2011

I’m freakishly addicted to Netflix now thanks to their incredible selection of movies available through instant streaming.  Thanks to some very nice technology, I can watch them while I work out on a TV in front of my exercise machine.  Needless to say, their iPhone app has been a godsend.

And to think I was so against it this time last year…

Anyways, back at the beginning of this month, it was reported through many blogs (such as Cinematical) that Netflix was going to have a button added to new remote controls for Blu-Ray players and such.  All I have to say is BRING IT ON!!!  As much as a stake that Netflix has in the business, I don’t mind its ominpresence.

Economists, however, might have something to say about its monopolistic tendencies.  But that’s something for them to sort out.

Random Factoid #549

28 01 2011

Clearly I’m gasping for air with the factoid column as I dig way back into the annals of the bookmark folder I call “Factoid Material” for something to write about today.  I need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that I like this column.  Also, I need to look at the number and remind myself that I have now been blogging for an astounding 549 days.  Wow.

I’ve had this article saved since September from io9, a site I don’t normally read (which means I must have stumbled across this article on IMDb’s Hit List), about the future of film and how it could be destroyed.  No, I don’t mean by Michael Bay’s movies, I mean by fungus.  Get this:

“Cinematographic film has a layer of gelatin on its surface. This emulsion layer is where the image is formed but also provides ideal food for fungi like Aspergillus and Penicillium.

If the fungus forms a layer of mould on a film it produces enzymes which allow it to use the film as food and to grow.

So the damage it can cause is irreversible as the mould ‘eats’ the image stored on the film’s surface.

While all film is potentially at risk, it is film that has been stored in damp conditions that is most likely to become infected in this way.”

This is obviously frightening to any film enthusiast, but at the same time, is there any need to be worried in a digitized age?  If everything exists on the Web out there, I don’t feel like any film could ever be truly lost.  From what I’ve read, only one Best Picture nominee has been lost, which is pretty good.  Never have I feared waking up and losing “The Social Network” when a disc sits on my desk with the movie on it.  As far as I’m concerned, cinematic history is as good as gold as long as it’s preserved somewhere other than celluloid.

Random Factoid #548

27 01 2011

How important is historical accuracy in film?

Get this: Issac Chotner of The New Republic called “The King’s Speech” “historically inaccurate, entirely misleading, and, in its own small way, morally dubious.”  That’s not exactly one of the jubilant cries in support of the movie that have become so boisterous recently.

Here’s just an excerpt of the article that looks to tell the ACTUAL events that Tom Hooper’s movie depicted:

“The only reason that Bertie managed to ascend to the throne in the first place was that his older brother, David (aka Edward VIII), decided to abdicate so he could marry a Baltimore divorcee by the name of Wallis Simpson. In the film, Edward VIII (nicely played by Guy Pearce) is presented as childish and cruel to his brother (which no doubt he was). And, as a way of presenting his political views, we see him make a single foolish comment about the Nazis. What the film never mentions is that Edward VIII was an ardent admirer of Hitler and of fascism, and a proponent of appeasement long after Germany moved onto Polish soil and hostilities began in earnest. Edward lived in continental Europe with Simpson after abdicating; following the German invasion of France, he absurdly asked the Nazis to look after his house. Eventually, the British government convinced the couple to move to the Bahamas, where he became governor. The idea was to keep the pair far away from the Nazis so as to prevent Edward from cutting any deals with Hitler. The last we see of Edward and Simpson in the film is when they listen to Bertie’s big speech. (There is a beach in the background but the viewer has no idea where they are.)

By shortchanging the danger that Edward posed to Britain, the viewer is likely to believe he was no more than a ridiculous and self-indulgent brat. But he isn’t the only character who is sanitized in the movie. First, there is Winston Churchill, played by Timothy Spall in a small role. Spall’s crucial scene takes place after the Simpson affair has become known. Churchill counsels Bertie and reports his (Churchill’s) dismay at the way Edward is behaving. This will come as news to historians because Churchill—astonishingly—supported Edward throughout the abdication crisis. His grandstanding on the issue even shocked his allies, who couldn’t believe that he would risk his political comeback to support an appeaser and fascist like Edward. Most likely because of Churchill’s historical standing, the film simply omits all of this and assigns the heroic war leader the opposite position to the one he actually held.

Bertie himself is also romanticized. He is seen presciently raising the question of German aggression before the invasion of the Sudetenland. Edward waves off Bertie’s warning, and, the next time we are instructed to focus on political questions, the King is heroically rallying his people to the battle against fascism. The film leaves out what happened in the intervening period.”

It’s hard to even say “inspired by true events” when you stray that far from the truth.  But while I find myself a little peeved that I got such a candy-coated version of history, I can’t get too worked up about this.  There’s a reason that “The King’s Speech” is not presented as a documentary or a History Channel special – it’s not about the events and the history.  It’s about the humans, and it’s about the emotional story of how one man overcame his stutter.  To move the audience, some liberties had to be taken.  Maybe they went a little too far, but it worked for me.

But I think Guy Lodge of In Contention said it best when he compared it to the smear campaign against the accuracy of “A Beautiful Mind” – the argument holds water, but it doesn’t destroy what the movie tries to do.

Random Factoid #547

26 01 2011

I’m generally against watching recut movies; this includes all those DVD gimmicks like unrated versions and director’s cuts.  If what we are seeing in the theaters isn’t the best thing the director can put forward, why bother releasing a movie at all?  I firmly believe that artistic integrity dictates that the original theatrical version of a movie represents a movie in its most pure and true form.  (See more in one of my earliest factoids, Random Factoid #11.)

But Company Town wrote yesterday in a very buzzed-about piece that Harvey Weinstein has spoken to Oscar-nominated director Tom Hooper about recutting his Best Picture-nominated “The King’s Speech” to be PG-13 or potentially even PG by cutting some of the movie’s language (which comes mostly in one scene that’s a comedic riot).  Weinstein unsuccessfully tried to appeal this rating to the MPAA earlier, saying that the profanity isn’t offensive to anyone.  It’s a common sense argument, and I think the movie has PG-13 subject matter.  But no matter how tame the context, you just can’t drop the F-bomb that many times in a movie that anyone can see unsupervised.

This move is forcing me, at least for the moment, to reconsider my policy on recut movies.  Removing the profanity would make the movie more accessible to audiences, although I’m not quite sure how many teenagers would consciously choose to see a movie about a stuttering king over the latest half-baked mindless horror flick like “The Rite.”  Trust me, I was a middle schooler not too long ago – movies are a social experience, not a time to absorb quality cinema or to think.  And smaller kids – well, I just don’t think it would be of that much interest to them.

According to the article, the recut version would not even be ready until AFTER the Oscars.  I think that makes it kind of pointless as this whole marketing move is centered around getting attention for the Oscars or making money off the Oscars attention.  Since that aspect is out of the picture, I think Harvey should just leave “The King’s Speech” alone and let parents decide for their selves whether or not to let their children under the age of 17 see it.  Most will probably be mature enough to say, “Oh, it’s only R because of some harmless profanity they hear every day in the hallways at school.”

Random Factoid #546

25 01 2011

Back in Random Factoid #189, I told you that I would finish my stories of finding out the Oscar nominees in 2011.  So, as promised, here are some more stories of nomination day.

In the year 2006…
I had to get to school on time, so I missed the nominations announcement at 7:30 A.M. (Central Time Zone).  I had to wait until 9:30 A.M. to get to my computer class to find out that “Walk The Line” had been cheated out of a Best Picture nomination.  That was the year where “Brokeback Mountain” dominated the field with a paltry 8 nominations…

In the year 2005…
Again, no real memory.  I don’t remember caring too much as I had seen only “Finding Neverland” of the nominated movies.

In the year 2004…
I was in fifth grade and an eager Oscar disciple.  Since I hadn’t fathomed using Google at school to look at the nominations, I had kindly asked my mom to print out a nomination list and leave it in my locker.  She didn’t come through, and I waited until 4:00 P.M. to find out that “Cold Mountain” was left out in the cold from Best Picture and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was setting the stage for a sweep.

And what about now, 2011?  How did I find out about the nominations today?

I had to be at school by 8:00 A.M., which ruled out watching them on TV at home.  Thanks to the joy of the Internet, I watched them via the AMPAS LiveStream channel on my computer at Starbucks.  The magic of the Internet was really working for me today.

Random Factoid #545

24 01 2011

Money is hard to come by in Hollywood these days, and many movie studios are going to an audience that was relatively ignored in the past – foreign markets – to make profits off of risky film investments.  For many movies that bomb in the United States, their saving grace comes from overseas audiences, and they can break even or even turn a profit for producers.

The Big Picture, a blog written by Patrick Goldstein for The Los Angeles Times, featured an article today about the huge stream of revenue coming in from foreign markets and how it is affecting the way movies are made and marketed:

“Hollywood is taking advantage of its most compelling competitive advantage in world cinema. The epic scope of its Big Event movies can’t be achieved in other countries, which is why some of the most striking overseas box-office successes have been achieved by 3-D movies or special-effects driven animated films. When it comes to the riches available in the ever-expanding global market, there is no better example than the box-office trajectory of the ‘Ice Age’ series. The franchise has largely remained constant in the U.S.–with each of the three films making between $176 and $197 million–while the films have exploded around the globe, with the first film making $207 million overseas, the second one $457 million and the third one a whopping $690 million.

The potential for overseas box-office bullion is also driving the explosion in 3-D releases. 3-D movies have two distinct advantages overseas–they can’t be duplicated by local productions and, even better, they have a built-in safeguard against piracy, since the 3-D ingredient can be seen only in a theater. The real payoff came for horror films like the ‘Resident Evil’ series. When the franchise’s third installment was released, it did $50 million in the U.S., $96 million overseas. But the fourth film, ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife,’ released in 3-D, exploded when it was released last fall, making $60 million in the U.S. but an astounding $236 million overseas.

As Jeff Blake, Sony’s chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution, explains: ‘We’re increasingly having to compete with local product in each marketplace, so to get people’s attention away from the local product, you need something special. 3-D is the element that really makes the film stick.'”

It’s definitely true that Hollywood movies provide an unmatched spectacle, and the focus on that spectacle is what is selling overseas.  But what’s killing them in America is an overemphasis on spectacle and a lack of emphasis on storytelling and plot, the basic conventions necessary to make a story work.  Summer blockbusters like “Robin Hood” and “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” which did a faceplant in America, played like gangbusters overseas.

What we are faced with is an existential divide between worlds: foreign markets wanting all the benefits of modern technological advancement and domestic markets wanting a return to the classic conventions of cinema, especially fresh, original story material.  The studios will ultimately have a big choice ahead: provide quality filmmaking that is often a big gamble or continue to produce movies that will turn a profit even if they disappoint domestically.

And then, of course, that leads to the biggest question of all: Do movies need to be produced for a worldwide audience?

As a film blogger and lover of cinema, I’m of course inclined to say quality trumps all.  But money is money, and it’s not easy to have faith in studios to keep profits secondary to quality.  I think we are seeing a fundamental shift that will affect filmmaking, for better or for worse, in dramatic ways over the next decade.

Random Factoid #544

23 01 2011

The seriocomedy is probably one of my favorite sub-genres.  Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it to?  The seriocomedy lets you have the sweetness of the icing (comedy) with all the bulk and substance of the cake itself (drama).

But name the last really good one produced inside of the studio system in the last ten years or so.  (“The Kids Are All Right” was independent, so try again.)  It’s hard because so many of them miss the mark.  “Love & Other Drugs” and “How Do You Know” both could have been so good but wound up falling short.

Here’s The Los Angeles Times on what could be a dying genre after “The Dilemma” flopped:

“The seriocomedy has never been easy creative ground for directors. To make a good one you need to be proficient at constructing both laughs and drama, and have the dexterity to switch between them. From a business standpoint it’s even dicier: How, in this age of marketing, do you retail these tweeners?

Movie-making these days seems to have calcified into genres. Dramas are intense and serious, like ‘The Social Network,’ or weepie and inspirational, like ‘The Blind Side’ or ‘Secretariat.’ Comedies are  broader and more gross-out, like the best of Adam Sandler or Apatow.

‘The problem is trailers,’ said James Schamus, the Focus Features chief who released “The Kids Are All Right.” ‘These days with the Internet, it’s more important than ever, and it’s very hard to cut a good trailer for [seriocomedies]. If you go for the laugh you never get the full laugh because the humor is situational, and you can’t play the drama because then you kill the comedy vibe.'”

I think the death is due to two things: the declining quality of studio output and the hyperfocused nature of the American moviegoing audience.  We want straight drama or straight comedy when we go to the movies; a hybrid just doesn’t satisfy much as it often feels like a muddled mess.  That’s partially the fault of filmmakers, but I think that most moviegoers nowadays can’t handle them both together.

So, is the seriocomedy DEAD?  Sound off!

Random Factoid #543

22 01 2011

Why do we bother to get to a movie that starts at 10:40 on time, rather than at 10:55 when the movie actually starts?  When it isn’t to assure ourselves of a good seat, it’s to kick back and watch the trailers for upcoming movies.  They tell us what we have to look forward to (or what to dread, cough “The Lincoln Lawyer”) and renew the circle of life that is moviegoing.

However, for some strange reason, AMC Theaters seems to stifle that chain when you go see a movie that hasn’t been released in the incredible recent past.  They never change the trailers from opening day, even if the movies have ALREADY OPENED!

It’s such a trite complaint, I know, but it really gets under my skin when I sit there and watch 15 minutes of previews for movies that I’ve already seen.  Just add it to my list of complaints about the theater chain between this, their ticket taker, their disgusting floors, their poor sound quality, their blaring hallway music, their constantly broken projectors,

Darn it for having cheaper tickets, free parking, easy accessibility, and good movie selection.

Random Factoid #542

21 01 2011

No “Round-Up” today as final predictions are coming on Sunday/Monday.

I have a strange habit.  Well, I’ll let everyone judge how strange it actually is for themselves.  When I watch movies or trailers, I like to look at the movie advertisements plastering the city to get a sense of when the movie was shot.

This is easy in any movie filmed in Times Square, which is so saturated with ads that it’s impossible to film without catching at least one of them; examples of these include “Date Night” and “Enchanted.”  But sometimes they are more subtle, and I catch them out of the corner of my eye on a bus shelter or on a taxi.

I came up with this factoid through watching the trailer for “The Adjustment Bureau,” which upon rewatching actually had no ads.  Oops.

Random Factoid #541

20 01 2011

I think it’s interesting to see a movie like “Black Swan” hitting the mainstream consciousness so  dramatically.  Since I’ve been singing its praises ever since I saw it back in early November, my friends knew me as “the Black Swan guy” and have thus heard many differing reactions to the movie.

Some have told me that they loved it.  Some have told me that they were dazzled but were too terrified to enjoy it.  Some have told me they were so creeped out that they couldn’t even watch.  Among my parent’s friends, I’ve heard reactions ranging from obsession to walk-outs.  I really LOVE when a polarizing movie like this comes along because it makes cinema a centerpiece for discussion.  “Why do you hate it?” one person asks, only to hear the retort, “how can you love it?”  When everyone loves a movie, things can get kind of boring.

If you have any doubts that there are a wide gamut of reactions to the film, go see it at night and listen at key points in the movie.  Hear cringes, cheers, screams, and cat calls during the steamy sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.  Hear laughs and screams during some of the dialogue.  Hear terror or scared whispers during some of the grotesque physical transformation scenes.  A post on The Envelope got it right here:

“It was just before 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night in Los Feliz, and the assorted filmgoers that had gathered to see “Black Swan” sounded as if they were attending different movies.

Nas Moinee, 23, had come for the dancing and the costumes and was dreading the film’s scares. Peter Garcia, a longhaired, ball-cap-wearing 12-year-old attending with his mother, said he was looking forward to jumping out of his seat at the movie’s spooky scenes.

And while Shawna Joplin, 28, had bought a ticket because she heard about a bravura performance from star Natalie Portman, her companion, Greg Richmond, 32, came because his friends told him about an explicit sex scene between Portman and costar Mila Kunis. “This movie’s about ballet?” he said. He didn’t seem to be joking.”

What about YOU?  Being a movie lover, do you relish the opportunity for a polarizing movie to sweep the nation?

Random Factoid #540

19 01 2011

So, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.  Time for her to get her sexy on (since she won’t be able to rely on just straight up being naked like in “Love & Other Drugs“).  Guess we just have to trust Christopher Nolan’s casting instinct.

It’s hard being a fan to remind myself that I actually have no say in how movies are made.  I don’t get to write, cast, or direct Hollywood products (yet).  I don’t have control, and we have to remember that a studio wouldn’t give millions of dollars to a director if they didn’t know what they were doing.  And after “Inception,” I dare you to tell Christopher Nolan that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

A lot of people, particularly us vocal bloggers, have a hard time reminding themselves of these things.  We scream as if there’s actually some way we can change things.  But we really can’t, and it’s only worth writing about if you can joke about acting like you have a say.

What about YOU?  Do you struggle with remembering you don’t run Hollywood?


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