Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Craig’

Another Slide at the Box Office

Saturday, December 31st, 20112011-12-31T08:06:08Zl, F jS, Y

Know what I like about watching Major League Baseball maybe even more than the games themselves? The infinite statistics that can be generated by year, player, team, position, age, batting average, height, weather – it just goes on and on and on. Just when you think there can’t possibly be a way to break down a play into a statistic, someone like Vin Scully, with his lovely, sonorous voice informs us that so-and-so is the “youngest player to bunt the ball with a man on second base on a sunny day, in Houston, while having just also been married recently and broken his nose at a playoff game two weeks ago. While standing on one leg.” Baseball (and all major league sports, honestly) are like turducken – a statistic stuffed in a season wrapped in a game, with an inning drizzled on top for good measure.

The movie business is much the same. Box office statistics can be broken down in an almost infinite number of ways. Worldwide gross, opening weekend, number of theaters, male actors over 60, action movies, action movies with Tom Cruise, action movies with Chris Tucker, action movies under X budget, action movies over X budget – it’s rather fascinating, honestly.

Here are some statistics for you:

Here’s a statistic that I don’t think anyone in Hollywood is having too much fun examining:

Why is this? What pattern can we find here? Well, opinions vary from ideas that audiences are more comfortable and satisfied in the privacy of their own homes watching a film on their home entertainment systems to that audiences simply can’t stand the rude, discourteous viewers around them coughing, texting and talking, to, according to Roger Ebert, that studios just aren’t making movies that audiences want to see. This is not a novel thought. But I believe Ebert to be correct.

In fact, I am not alone in observing that the number of truly good (not even great) films that Hollywood produces has dropped precipitously in favor of 3D/sequel/comicbook/superhero/board game dross. And why is this? Well, as the old axiom goes, “If anyone in Hollywood knew what made a hit – every movie would be a hit.” Nobody knows nothing.

The other evening, I was delighted to join a dear friend over cocktails to discuss exactly what is going on. My friend, let’s call her Ruby, works at The Cimmaron Entertainment Group. Her job is to not only analyze box office results but to do exhaustive research on what audiences want and why. Though Cimmaron is a top drawer company with a slew of experts in marketing research, SEO and branding, they have thrown their all into as many box office winners as box office losers.  Ruby recently wrote an article with a co-worker that will be appearing in Deadline Hollywood next week about just why the box office is slipping so consistently.

Discourteous audiences, access to home theaters and online streaming via a plethora of devices, convenience, ticket prices and concession gouging all came up. But according to the soon to be published article, the overarching reason is s a t u r a t i o n. Movies are coming out too quickly, with too much sameness to them, with too much marketing.

Audiences, it would seem, are becoming overwhelmed if not numbed by the sheer tidal wave of video game spinoffs, merchandise, sequels, prequels, apps, keychains and Big Gulps associated with a new film. It’s all becoming a blur, in other words. Movies are no longer anything special. Why make a big deal out of seeing MI:4 if you can just buy the app and amuse yourself with that for awhile?(Admission: it is pretty amusing).  The Green Lantern the Batman XXVII, the Superbowl, the Emmys, the Grammy’s, the American Music Video Movie Short Film Nickelodeon Indy Whatever Awards.  Overexposure has left us gasping among a sea of merchandise, branding and excess.

If you are of a certain age, you remember the time when movies were real events. When I was a kid The Wizard of Oz, Frosty the Snowman, Oliver, A Charlie Brown Christmas – these were movies that were on once a year. You couldn’t miss the movie. It was a very big deal. My two college age kids, however, grew up watching movies over and over again, on demand. They are intimately familiar with details that I am not. But they also do not value their old favorites the way I continue to. It’s hard to be sentimental about the Rugrats Movie when you’ve seen it 28 times and half of those times you were dribbling your sippy cup on the carpet and sticking raisins up your nose. Pause. Go potty. Back again. Where were we? Who cares.

I am actually happy about the sobering 2011 box office statistic. Because it means that maybe – just maybe – Hollywood is finally going to get off the fear train and go back to making movies that matter, not movies that might do well if audiences who are also fans of the Prince of Persia video game also buy the Prince of Persia Lego set and subsequently visit sponsor LegoLand.

I have oft decried the state of movie releases today. 21 Jump Street? Really?! For me, this current state of affairs is particularly offensive because I work with hundreds of writers who have written compelling, original and visionary scripts of every genre. And yet doors are very hard to open for these writers. In other words, it’s not that there aren’t totally unique, meaningful, entertaining scripts out there – they arrive in Hollywood by the truckload each day. No, they just don’t get made.For me, the inclusion of established writers like Quentin Tarantino on the Black List make the Black List suddenly and completely useless as an avenue for new writers to gain attention.

Does Hollywood make movies that audiences indicate they want to see? Or do audiences watch what they are given? In Ebert’s article, he writes:

“The myth that small-town moviegoers don’t like “art movies” is undercut by Netflix’s viewing results; the third most popular movie on Dec. 28 on Netflix was “Certified Copy,” by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. You’ve heard of him? In fourth place–French director Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime.” In fifth, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”–but the subtitled Swedish version.”

The economic collapse, as awful as it is, has also given us new perspective and certainly new hope. New, green blades are sprouting in the charred fields. It’s as if the flame of collapse has burnt away all excess, foolishness and vanity. We must put our energy toward what is truly important to ourselves and our families and friends.

So it is with the movie business. This recent box office statistic is a slap across the face to Hollywood and a whole lot of smelling salts to boot. On Stranger Tides indeed. Not only has online streaming completely changed the face of theatrical distribution, we come back, once again to the clarion call and the most fundamental of truths: we deserve better movies. No, we need better movies.

It is my opinion that the future of (good) film lies in independent film. Which can take more chances and try new writers, new actors and new material. Which isn’t weighted with fear and a 90 million dollar budget and tired celebrities we’ve seen in three films this year already.

Come on, Hollywood. We can do better. How about giving new writers a crack at it? How about taking some chances? Surely, it seems as if we can afford to take a gamble at this point?


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Artistic Integrity – or Too Much?

Friday, December 30th, 20112011-12-30T19:59:57Zl, F jS, Y

If you have seen GWTDT or read the books by Stieg Larsson, you know exactly what I’m referring to. The not one but two brutal, graphic rape scenes in the film – both American and Swedish versions. I wouldn’t know about the Swedish version – I haven’t seen it but have been informed of same. Besides, I only just survived the American one. But I am told both films share the scene(s) I am referring to.

Don’t get me wrong GWDT is a pretty good movie. Relatively speaking. The production values are superlative as is the acting and direction. However. The brutality and graphic depictions of the rape scenes left me (and all four friends who saw the film with me) so viscerally shaken that we afterward had a tough time shaking off the feeling.

Being film lovers and professionals in the industry, we did have a fascinating discussion about why the scenes were so graphic and whether they were germane to the story. We discussed our personal tastes (and limitations within that), as well as the source material, the Swedish film’s inclusion of the graphic scenes, Zaillian’s adaptation and Fincher’s direction and filmic signatures. In fact, one of the friends I was with is writing a detailed book about Fincher, his films and what makes Fincher Fincher, so she had much to say on the topic, primarily that his artistic view is quite bleak and that this film is a perfect fit for that.

At the end of the day, we agreed that the scenes, for us, were jarring and could have been intimated rather than shown explicitly, with the same effect. Somebody pointed out that Fincher was merely including scenes that were key in the source material and made the only artistic choice that made sense in terms of honoring the original material. At the end of the day, the movie was overshadowed by graphic sexual brutality – for my friends and I. But it is not reflection on the general state of the film.

However, I am left with questions: is graphic sexual brutality necessary? Is it gratuitous, in other words? Or is it necessary for the emotional integrity of the character who goes through this nightmare, for us to get very close to what happened to her? Or have we become jaded – do we allow more and more line crosses in film – so much so that for a director to get and hold our attention, we need to be shaken up on this level?

The film gets an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly, I am in the minority, feeling that the two scenes depicted overshadowed the quality of the film. That said, in all honesty, I was disappointed. I knew who the bad guy was immediately, the ending felt tacked on and too long and while Rooney Mara’s performance was very good and Daniel Craig is delicious, outside of all the hype around this movie (and indeed, franchise) it was a relatively run-of-the-mill serial killer mystery that wasn’t that mysterious. The photography was amazing – great DP. But… my question for Fincher is this: really?

Interestingly, GWTDT is under-performing at the box office, with a 90 million dollar budget and a worldwide gross of just over 34M to date. I actually think the reasons are unrelated – the film was already made by the Swedes and most fans of the work have already seen it. But moreso, Christmas is a very strange time to release a decidedly UNfeel-good movie such as this.