Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Lamentable Weekend Gross — what happened?

Despite good reviews, Comic-Con buzz, and plenty of pre-release screenings, Scott Pilgrim Versus The World has made only $10.5 million of its $60 million budget thus far. Let's commence the Sunday afternoon quarterbacking.

So Scott Pilgrim came in fifth at the box office this weekend — barring word of mouth that verges on mind control, it's unlikely to go up next week. The film will probably break even in time, but what about the film failed to capture an audience right out the gate? Here are some theories....

1.) Michael Cera backlash: Most thought Cera made a fine Scott Pilgrim, but some folks are very vocally burnt out by his semi-twee brand of comedy. Somehow, this mild-mannered actor has become a lightning rod for intense vitriol. Here's a fake trailer that capitalizes on that attitude:


2.) Critical backlash: The movie has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 80%, but those critics who weren't too fond of film could have set the agenda more so than usual. Every film has its detractors, but as Linda Holmes at NPR observes, the reviews of Scott Pilgrim have been a soapbox for critics to razz on the film's demographic:

After referring to the first part of the movie as a "dork-pandering assault," The Boston Phoenix reviewer goes on to say that Michael Cera's performance is "irritating" in part because of "the non-stop Pavlovian laugh track provided by the audience at the screening I attended." (As far as I know, that's a first: "You made the audience laugh, you irritating actor in a comedy, and that's what's wrong with you.")
The review in the St. Petersburg Times begins, "First of all, I'm not a video gamer. I have discovered more appealing ways to not have a life."
The New York Observer sniffs that the film is "clearly directed at an audience with generational ADD."

3.) The film didn't have much to offer women: In the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, Ramona's character is much more fleshed out, as is Scott's propensity to be a Grade-A ass. The film does an admirable job of condensing the graphic novel series into a little less than two hours, but — in the process — Scott's character is a smidge de-jerkified and Ramona's given way less to do. The movie, while just as zippy as the graphic novels, contains more of Scott vying for a silent Ramona. Could it be possible that the film was more of a guys' night out than its creators realized?

In an intriguing essay over at Asking the Wrong Questions, Abigail Nussbaum found herself unable to square the misogyny she found in the movie with her enjoyment of the film:
This is a misogynistic film. It's also a fun one. When it comes to Hollywood blockbusters, that's often the best one can hope for, and Scott Pilgrim might almost be described as a better sort of misogynistic film because if offers distractions from its misogyny rather than foregrounding it as so many others do. But especially given that, according to my friends who are its fans, Scott Pilgrim the comic is a story that tries to combat much of the misogyny that underlies Scott Pilgrim the film and other works of its ilk, it's a shame that this is the best Edgar Wright could come up with—a film that uses flashing lights and bright colors to distract its viewers from the unpleasantness at its core.
 I still have yet to see it, but what did you guys think?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hunting Santa Claus- literally.

In 2003, Finnish director Jalmari Helander made a zany short film about smugglers in the business of hunting Santa Claus and inadvertently created a viral sensation. The short, “Rare Exports Inc.,”  and its 2005 follow-up, “Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions,” contained a playfully inventive hook: Helander imagined Santa as a naked, bloodthirsty species far from the charitable bearded gentlemen of Christmas lore. Captured and tamed, Santas could be shipped to consumers each Christmas season and delight clueless children around the globe. By meshing action-adventure tropes with dark comedic inspiration, Helander created an utterly unique high concept premise that practically demanded elaboration. Seven years later, he has taken the inevitable next step with “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” a feature-length adaptation of the material. Although it contains the same goofy spirit, Helander fails to build on the original lunacy, suggesting that great short films may owe part of their appeal to brevity.

That does not make “Rare Exports” any less fun than its predecessors, at least for a little while. The movie technically functions as an origin story, setting the stage for the Santa export business that Helander so cleverly explored in the shorts. It opens with an excavation of Santa’s Finnish tomb, establishing a mood filled with such a familiar kind of cinematic wonder—aided by Juri and Miska Seppä‘s exaggerated orchestral score, and the exoticism of the barren icy climate—that you almost expect Indiana Jones himself to waltz through the scene. Helander mercilessly cribs from the energy of kids fantasy movies from the 1980s, establishing his self-made Santa mythos with a mixture of innocence, wonder and otherworldly creepiness worthy of Tim Burton. “The Coca-Cola Santa was a hoax,” concludes wide-eyed loner Pietari (Onni Tommila), a young boy whose father owns a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of the excavation site. After spying on the Americans unearthing Santa, Pietari does his homework, and learns that the creature was lured into a frozen lake by an ancient civilization. It turns out Saint Nick wasn’t so jolly, but rather a dangerous pest intent on kidnapping naughty children.

Absurd as it sounds, Helander actually manages to play it straight for much of the running time. Using a spare cast and relying more on atmosphere than special effects (the Santa creatures are, after all, just wizened old men), his narrative suggests John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for the holiday season. Sadly, the appeal of the director’s openly derivative approach grows redundant after he establishes the basic threat of Santa unleashed, and the build-up goes nowhere. Only when Pietro’s father and a colleague discover an elderly man caught in a bird trap outside, unaware of the situation at hand, does the suspense nudge upward. But there’s no follow through; we never get the chance to see the full lethal potential of the beast in question.

With hardly any of the run-and-gun entertainment or consumerist satire present in the shorts, it seems as though Helander couldn’t find an ideal strategy for expanding his initial conceit. The climax borrows the worst clichés of modern blockbusters where the earlier scenes borrow some of the best. Helander’s trite, half-baked resolution is held down by murky action and lacks a thrilling showdown. It’s like he suddenly lost a sense of humor, which demolishes the unique vision evident in the shorts. If anything, Helander should have taken even more liberties with the Santa myth and pushed the excessive genre components to an extreme.

An obvious bid for a franchise, “Rare Exports” leaves room for plenty of sequels and the possibility that Helander, a capable filmmaker with the capacity for emulating the feel of a polished Hollywood product, could nail it better the next time out. Then again, perhaps his follow-up should return to the short film realm. The flaws of “Rare Export” offer an important reminder that looking good on YouTube does not provide qualifications for a bigger screen. - Eric Kohn

"The New Year" Review

Brett Haley’s The New Year is a modest little number in just about every way, from its meager budget (just under 10k) to its understated performances to its graceful handling of material that could have so easily devolved into maudlin made-for-TV schlock. Which is what makes it such a pleasant surprise. Why is it that so many young writer/directors feel a burning urge to amp up the drama and conflict in their stories to implausible degrees, producing work that shows filmmaking talent but lacks real world maturity? To his credit, Haley isn’t interested in those stylistic and emotional pyrotechnics. He is more concerned with telling an honest story, trusting that his audiences will respond to the sincerity of his cause.

The story is driven by Sunny (Trieste Kelly Dunn), a smart, pretty young woman who puts higher education—and, in turn, her boundlessly bright future—on hold in order to return to her hometown of Pensacola, Florida, in order to take care of her ailing father (a wonderfully restrained Marc Peterson). Sunny is clearly destined for bigger and better things, yet she accepts her role as caretaker and part-time worker at a local bowling alley without bitching or moaning. Her relationship with her boyfriend Neal (Kevin Wheatley) is respectful, unflashy, without any overt friction. A reconnection with her high school rival, Isaac (Ryan Hunter), injects hints of actual passion into the proceedings, yet Haley once again keeps this conflict measured and believable. If you’re looking for a violent love triangle showdown, you’ve come to the wrong theater.

As effective as Haley’s filmmaking craft is, The New Year belongs to Trieste Kelly Dunn, who delivers a performance that rightfully calls to mind Ashley Judd’s star-making turn in Ruby in Paradise. Dunn doesn’t overplay her character; instead, she imbues her with a quiet dignity that helps the audience to further appreciate her decision to put her life on hold in order to be with her father. Not many actual young people, especially those with such limitless futures, would accept this role with such grace, yet Sunny is different. Even when she slips up and commits a morally ambiguous act (kissing one boy while dating another? shame!), one can’t help but admire her. This performance, combined with her appearance in Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, pretty much confirms Dunn’s status as one of American independent cinema’s brightest young actors. If these two roles don’t directly lead to meatier parts in bigger productions, then aspiring actors everywhere might as well quit and take a job at their local bowling alley, because this is as good as calling cards get.

At the 2010 Sarasota Film Festival, where The New Year first screened publicly in April, it surprised everyone by walking away with the festival’s Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. It was a surprise because at large regional festivals like Sarasota, tiny movies never win this award (it usually goes to a more high profile picture with legitimate movie stars). But this wasn’t an instance of a local film stealing the prize—it’s set in Pensacola, after all. If anything, this overwhelmingly positive response proved that Haley’s hunch was correct, that many viewers out there still want to watch movies about real people struggling to live real lives, doing as good as they can with what little they have. Though, having said that, maybe people were swayed for the typical reason. Maybe they did vote for the legitimate movie star on display, after all. — Michael Tully

Thursday, August 5, 2010

3-D Stats are Trending Down

Hollywood would like to think that 3-D cures all ills. But the stats don’t lie, as a discerning public picks and chooses the 3-D movies that are clearly worth paying a premium for. Check out The Wrap’s analylsis of 3-D performance. The studios may want to reconsider throwing good money after bad when they try to buttress their returns on a bad B-movie with retrofitted 3-D. I quickly started to tune out Step Up 3-D, which actually had some good dancing, which I would much rather have seen in good old-fashioned 2-D. The intrusive 3-D wore out its welcome real fast. (Variety’s Justin Chang disagrees.)

When a smart filmmaker who knows what he’s doing—especially in an all-digital universe like CG animation—shoots with 3-D, the results can be spectacular. James Cameron and Pixar have set the bar very high. Few movies will deliver as stellar 3-D as Avatar or Up and Toy Story 3.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Did Gypsies Become A-List Celebs

How did the entertainment industry achieve its current standard. We look far into the past and starting from the middle ages where the performers, mostly gypsy were ill treated and ill reputed. Jesters were but mere clowns, and clowns as we all know don't hold much status. Then you take Shakespeare's actors. Men played women, women weren't present. There wasn't a million dollars to be made from Romeo and Juliet. Comedians and performers were the low end of the totem pole. They worked hard and passionately but it didn't go anywhere and they were never the respected members of society. 

Fast forwards to centuries later and the shoe is on the other foot. but how come this time it fits so well? Is it because civilization was a bit cross eyed and wore the shoe on the wrong foot to begin with. Shouldn't art be appreciated more. Well then you question the renaissance and other such movements that held art up to the standards. Art was everything, it was exquisite and beyond. Yet it wasn't a viable business. It was admired but it didn't effect much. 

Perhaps it was just theater and performing arts that were under appreciated. The value of art is something that not just every artist but every person should question. Then you have the great composers who rubbed noses with royalty. In the end there seems that the place for artists wasn't under-appreciated, but rather segregated to certain events or so. 

What is the difference between then and now. Well one can only speculate. The true solution to this question would most likely require years of study and a formation of a thesis that could perhaps earn me a Phd. Fortunately I don't have the patience for that. 

What is the difference then, simple, back then art was appreciated but there was no money in it. The difference between artists and business men is that business men strive to achieve supremacy and artists strive to exist. The goals vary and therefore artists stay poor or mildly rich. But now the business end of it has taken over and the artists are becoming richer and richer. They have accountants, managers, agents dealing with money. And those only make money when the artist makes money. life for them has changed, and they have become role models and in todays world idols. 

Kids wanna grow up to be them, they set trends, which in this consumeristic society means not only money but fame and success. There is more of a chance you know Will Smiths next film rather than the current foreign policy set by our dear president. To the point that presidents to be frequent comedy shows to boost their popularity. The world has become quite an interesting place. 

So then why. Well it could simply be because of the industrialization of the film industry. Starting with the early twenties and on and on. Films became important to a newly industrialized culture where working conditions were getting better and better, and people weren't working from dawn to dusk in farms or the corrupted factories. living conditions were getting better and better. People seem to have more time on their hands. 

Now they couldn't go out every day. So at first film started competing with theater. It seemed generally the same thing. But soon the extensive range of film started to impede on theater and the world started to change. Now we fast forward to the advent of home playing devices. They started to compete with home entertainment, which for the most part consisted of books and perhaps board games. Film started becoming a part of life like nothing else. It started becoming a part of the conversation. 

So what is the value of film now? Or the value of books and paintings? Is theater obsolete? All are important questions that vary with the one answering. But important none the less to ask. With all of art that we consume in todays world, do we really understand the need of it or do we just consume it just like every other product. The difference is that art will speak to your soul more than your physical needs.