Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Awful Aughts

It's hard to dis the decade that transformed you and turned you into what you are but who better qualified to do it than someone who lived it? I was a freshman in high school in the year 2000 and out of college for a year and a half by 2009. When the decade started we thought the worst thing that had ever happened to America in our lifetimes was the Bill Clinton scandal, or, at least that's how the news seemed to act. Sure, there was the Oklahoma City bombing in the 90s, as well as the first World Trade attempt, and there was violence in Kosovo, Iraq, Africa, and parts of Eastern Europe but not here. Then 9/11 turned everything on its head staining American history forever after with the watermark of decline.

For film to be the medium that really reflects society American studios were null to really react to all this until the end of the decade. Television was far more prepared for portraying the loss and confusion of society than studios to this decade have ever been. Shows like Lost, 24, Battlestar Gallactica, Heros, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and much more began diving down into whatever scar had been left by what the US government was doing to deal with the attacks and these shows really exposed a crippling distrust in authority figures and an unravelling of psyches and a feeling of being lost now that the Statue of Liberty wasn't so shiny.

The main problem of this decade wasn't Hollywood's reticence to pretend like nothing happened but how they chose to deal with what they perceived had happened. I don't think at any other time in Hollywood's history except for the 1960s has there been such a disconnect between Tinsel Town and main street America. The main movement in the 00's was in big blockbuster releases of super hero films. 9/11 had happened, we were at war, we need a hero! A Dark Knight that has to be the bad guy in order to protect us. Not surprisingly, "the Dark Knight" struck a sort of cultural heart string that no one had been able to tap into before on such a mass level. The Dark Knight said, yes there's evil out there, pure evil, but the only way we're going to fight it is if we're willing to lose a part of ourselves in the process.

Then of course there was a lot to do with elves, magic, rings, and fairy tales. These escapist films, the "Lord of the Rings," and "Harry Potter" were geared more for a younger audience who understood a good vs. evil plot a little easier than the murky gray of something like "The Dark Knight." Don't get me wrong, "The Lord of the Rings" was a great trilogy and "The Two Towers" is perhaps one of my favorite films of all time, but the movies have not had the sort of long lasting affect I thought they would. It's unfortunate for such a great trilogy to have been released during the peak years of 9/11 and the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they will always be viewed in the context of, "Gee, wish we could just take Osama Bin Laden's ring and cast it into that volcano in Sweden." Escapism is a nice escape though, especially in dark times like the aughts.

The problem with this is that instead of looking forward to new stories and ideas studios have adopted a strategy of revamping old ones. Instead of looking for new talent and developing new stars, it seems they're more content with rebirthing "blasts from the past." Remakes were on the tips of everyone's tongue in the 00's, with Superman, Star Trek, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, and many many more. It's hard to escape when you sit in a theater thinking, "where have I seen this before?" While not are remakes are held equal (Star Trek) I find the vast majority of them unfulfilling and disappointing.

Equally disappointing with the way studios run the film business is their reliance on reboots and franchises. In many ways these go hand in hand as one leg of the franchise might close with Terminator 3, only to reopen with the reboot of it in "Terminator: Salvation." Reboots seem to work like a turn signal after you've just slammed into a wall. They usually involve some sort of "pre" or "side" something in order to get started on where their going. It's all about brand and while Studios would love to make every original script they find, they know that there's a market out there for the predator/alien movies that can gaurantee them X amount of dollars and as long as they know that money is out there in the pockets of a potential audience members, they'll keep tailoring to that audience and ignore new/interesting stuff all day long.

All this boils down to the main problem in film and the reason why, despite so many successes, it's the worst decade of film making, is that it's the decade that killed independent film making and branded it into a marketing tool with certain asthetic styles, high caliber actors, and budgets that make real "indie" film making look like nothing more than glorified student films. It's this lack of competition between "indie" and "mainstream" that once made film going exciting, now makes it feel one-side.

For instance, of the 60 films that were shown at Sundance last year only 12 of them got distribution deal, 12! This lack of exposure to new film makers is only going to hurt the medium in the long run. Mainstream studio films benefit from the experience and fresh take of successful indie film makers and indie film makers benefit from the void of story telling that's left empty by the studios. When indie film makers now fill that void with their stories they will have no avenues to distribute them and get them out.

The smaller niche distributors are dead or dying. Where once Miramax would buy a movie in the 90's and turn it into "the next big thing" with the distributor's recent belly-up the likely hood of that happening or of another smaller niche distributor doing the same is very small. There has been a lot of debate as to newer mediums to distribute movies on and combinations of blitzkreig style marketing and distribution techniques, all these are requiring the indie film-maker to become more concerned about recouping their losses and in essence turning them into the corporate entities they are trying to overcome.

So what killed indie? As much as the studios are to blame Indie film has very much become a victim of its own success. It used to be that so much money was spent on equipment, processing, and editing that the only actors directors could afford were up-and coming ones. The only scripts indie producers could produce were "excellent" scripts and the likely hood of regaining at least something of what was spent was an acceptable risk because there was at least knowledge of an "art house" circuit of independent cinemas that would show their work. This doesn't exist anymore.

In today's world, none of that is true. Producing something is so cheap, editing is so easy and inexpensive, that producers spend more time trying to find A-list talent to help "sell" the film than whether or not the script is developed enough. SO, A-list talent signs on to lack-luster films that mainly just go on everyone's resumes and never really go anywhere else. Nothing is recouped, and investors are left only with the promise of their movie going to a film festival where even if it was a buyers festival like Sundance or Toronto, it would only have a 20% chance of getting bought. Other potential investors hear about this charade and next time an indie producer asks them or their friends for money the answer will be no. This is where we are now.

There is a lot of everything being made, some good, some bad and some just lost in the cacophony of too much product. In a phrase that's what the 00's were, "a cacophony of product," where it was getting so cheap and so easy to produce movies because of the digital revolution there were literally too many films out there--and still are-- for distributers to even know what to do with. Studio libraries back in LA are full of movies that will never get released because they've missed their "window." Ah, another crucial topic: the shrinking window. All tales are timely but the person deciding the time often cares very little for the tale and will shelve it indefinitely if they feel the public climate is not "right" for the film's release. Thrown in with the new Hollywood-indie style films being made by Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, and once indie king Quentin Terontino, some of them still having problems getting their films released even with their connections, it leaves the rest of the pack in dire straights.

On top of all of this, an asshole director who has never director a critically acclaimed film in his entire life, Michael Bay, is on top of everyone's list of most wanted directors. Bay's success is really a magnifying glass on just how awful the 00's were. When movies like Pearl Harbor, Transformers, The Island, all critically destained movies, can get someone as much traction as they've gotten Bay it's no wonder literate directors everywhere are unnecessary. Bay is a great studio director because he knows the audience better than the studios and that audience is not a fan of art or story, they're fans of big explosions, they're the type of people who think Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas really is a replica of the one in ancient Rome, and they're the fast and the furious audience who take a girl to a movie just to have an excuse to go bang her in the parking lot afterwards. That's what, according to Bay and the studios, most of America is these days and they are that way because instead of raising the bar they've lowered it and that has more to do with film making than any other medium that's out there.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Summer Movies: the formula

I love that feeling when a movie is announced, and it's like there's just something under my skin that's just itching, compulsively, and won't stop until it forces me to see it. I love that feeling. I saw Star Trek on my own last year because I couldn't wait to schedule going to see it around my friends schedule. I did the same when Two Towers came out, and regrettably, I went straight from finals to go see the sequel to The Matrix when it came out. I don't know what I feel about the films coming out this year, suffice to say, deja vous? Have we been here before?

There's nothing too distracting about the movies coming out this summer and that has allowed me to peer behind the curtain and find something extremely telling: the formula. Here's how it goes: non-trilogy, franchise sequels & prequels are generally released earlier in the summer, along with long anticipated remakes/reboots they're the ones that will get the most hype and most anticipation, for instance, Ironman 2 and Shrek 4, and Robin Hood (AKA Gladiator: the sequel) coming out in May. This is followed by a slew of date films and bro comedies at the same time children's films from June -- August. Throw in some more big budget action/adventure stories, this time, ones that are probably more original, and then let the money roll in...

Studios posture endlessly to schedule release dates for their upcoming blockbusters because they want to have the most strategic release as possible so the most money can be made from it. The three biggest weekends to release summer movies are the first weekend of spring/summer--usually around May 1, July 4th, and Memorial Day. Cleverly enough, these weekends span the summer movie season roughly marking the beginning middle and end. You can pretty much guarantee a big, big, release on every single one of these three weekends.

Since we've already talked about May which has been dominated so far by Iron Man 2, lets move to June which is packed with huge releases geared towards the out-of-school age14-22 demographic.

June 4:
Get Him to the Greek

June 11:
The A-Team
The Karate Kid

June 18:
Toy Story 3
Jonah Hex

June 25:
Knight and Day
Grown Ups

And the big ball-busting can't believe it's going to make so much money:

June 30:
Twilight Saga: Eclipse

So in total, every weekend is something big, but it's geared more towards young adults because they're the ones killing time, spending parents' money.

Looking further ahead, at mid summer where the July 4th weekend is going to be dominated by "The Last Air Bender" the hopeful new blockbuster by a not so blockbusting director M. Night Shyamalan, there is a more diverse mix of films. This is because July is the one true month of summer where if someone were going to have a summer vacation or be off for whatever length of time, worldwide, this would be the month. So take a look:

July 2:
Last Airbender
I hate Love Stories

July 9:
Despicable Me
The Kids are Alright
Change of Plans

July 16:
Sorcerers Apprentice

July 23:
Dinner for Shmucks

July 30:
Charlie St. Cloud

Keep in mind, Iron Man 2, Toy Story 3, Twilight, and Knight and Day will all still probably be playing during this time and grossing big money. I'm excited that "The Kids are Alright" -- the indie/Hollywood film about lesbian parents whose children want to know who their sperm donor father is, got a release that falls in the mix of all these films. It's definitely on the "Little Miss Sunshine" marketing bus of "little indie film becomes summer's sleeper hit," sorry "Letters to Juliet," if it hasn't happened for you by this point it's over baby.

Moving on to August the summer movie season wraps up, but since that's so far away at the moment we'll keep the pre-game out of it as we've yet to really see how exactly June and July shape up. I hope this has been informative but I hope it doesn't discourage you from seeing what you want to see. Go support film!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Summer Movies: Update

Ironman 2 = hit. Everyone saw this coming and even though it's overall ratings are not as good, the fact remains that strategically speaking as far as releases go, this was the most well placed one of the year. The first summer blockbuster will always be a hit no matter how much it blows. Last year "Wolverine" took up this same slot and was a huge disappointment for many X-Men fans. Despite this, they still generated enough money to make another X-Men prequel. This time, featuring the story of Xavier which I hope will be much cooler. X-Men is my favorite comic book franchise and "Wolverine" had too many characters and was hard follow. It's not a complaint that is heard often in the genre but it seems the same can be said for Ironman 2 except it's fairly easy to follow.

Robin Hood = miss. The re-assessment of the Robin Hood role in a totally different way for the character more commonly known to us in English literature was a slap in the face. Hollywood has always been in the "lets correct history mode" but how can you correct a piece of literature? They could have made the same story but called it, "The Archer" and it would be a huge hit like "The Gladiator" and no one would notice the lack in creativity of the title because, "How creative is Ridley Scott anyways?" But they didn't and the studio, Ridley, and Russell Crowe are getting blasted for it.

All in all, the movie is a very good allegory about a poor man fighting a rich man's war who comes home wanting to take a little more than your average revenge out. I have no problem with the movie except that it should have been called, "The Archer" and not "Robin Hood" because it has nothing to with the real Robin Hood except for the fact they were both archers. This is such a basic law of big budget film making: If you're going to adapt something from a well known piece of literature, history, comic books, or any other form of media--stick to the essentials. They're essential for a reason. With that said, I'll take Errol Flynn as the man in tights any day. I'll even take Kevin Costner in a Mullet--at least Snape was the bad guy in that one.

***On that note, I propose to remake Robin Hood in the future where he's a sniper and using his expert skills to knock off big business CEO's that have gone corrupt. He then falsifies some documents so that their money lands in his bank account which he then uses to purchase bibles and blankets for children in Honduras. He's being hunted by every government in the world and for that--he's awesome. Oh, and he makes 007 look like a pussy. Oh yeah, and Lady Marriane is played by Lady Ga-Ga.

As for my other predictions, I'm obviously pretty horrible about predicting what chicks like and don't like cause apparently "Letters for Juliet" is not getting very stellar reviews. That said, the majority of reviewers tend to be male and therefore geared towards a male audience. Who would have predicting after it's first opening week that "The Blind Side" would go on to be as big of a hit as it was. Still, like watching horses leave the gate, I'm waiting on "Letters for Juliet" to pick up some speed.

Lastly, Get Him to the Greek is picking up some advertising momentum with a huge blitz and is like I said, looking to be this year's "The Hangover." I stand by my prediction that it's going to fall short of "The Hangover" buzz but will still probably make a lot of money. So is it a hit? Yes and no, even the bro-tastic audience knows how to call bullshit from time to time.

Stay tuned for more summer movie updates.