As I explained earlier today in a talkback forum, Joe Popcorn is a different guy than Joe Sixpack. The latter is a cultural figure who responds to various hot-button issues in the political realm. They know each other, live in the same neck, park their cars in the same garage. Except Joe Popcorn is a kind of older movie-buff who sees movies once every two or three weeks.
His movie-love, granted, is defined by a limited attitude and education (having never watched films like L’avventura or The Hit or Office Space or Martin Scorsese‘s American Boy) and diminished/conventional spiritual vistas. But that’s our Joe.
JP tends to stick to easily-digestible, heavily advertised, broadly-commercial fare. I call him “older” in the sense that he’s not one of the Eloi, which is an under-25 kneejerk moviegoing culture that always attends the latest big-studio idiot flick, no matter how godawful or how wretched the online buzz, out of feelings of basic peer pressure and needing/wanting to hang with their yo-homies on Friday and Saturday night, etc.
“There’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line,” N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote yesterday for a piece in today’s issue. “It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke: Senator Charles E. Grassley feeds the death panel smear, warning that reform will ‘pull the plug on grandma,’ and two days later the White House declares that it’s still committed to working with him.
“It’s hard to avoid the sense that President Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.
Indeed, no sooner were there reports that the administration might accept co-ops as an
alternative to the public option than G.O.P. leaders announced that co-ops, too, were
“So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back.”
I am one of those lefties feeling punked and in a revolting mood. You can’t treat right-wing politicians like human beings unless…oh, you know, unless one of their wives has died or if they’ve been caught cheating or something. Otherwise you have to frown up and treat them like animals, like evil dogs. You have to push them into a corner and bark back at them and get out the stick and let them know you won’t take any of their shit or you’ll whack them even harder. You have to make their lives a living hell. Only then will they respect you and deal with you.
Okay, I have to hit town for my Avatar encounter at Leows Lincoln Square. I’m told that the AMC IMAX on 42nd Street is fake IMAX, as are all the other IMAX theatres in town except for the AMC Lincoln Square. Repeating: this is the only Manhattan theatre showing the footage in genuine 3D IMAX. Simulated IMAX is like going to the Venetian in Las Vegas and saying afterwards, “Well, I’ve been to Venice. Love the people and the food. Love those gondolas!”
“There’s a real question at stake now,” Jon Voight has told the Washington Times. “Is President Obama creating a civil war in our own country? We are witnessing a slow, steady takeover of our true freedoms. We are becoming a socialist nation, and whoever can’t see this is probably hoping it isn’t true. If we permit Mr. Obama to take over all our industries, if we permit him to raise our taxes to support unconstitutional causes, then we will be in default. This great America will become a paralyzed nation.”
There are three reasons why Michael Moore‘s docs connect with people. One, they always exude a kind of working-class, regular-fat-guy, American common-sense attitude about whatever the subject is. Two, they’re always mildly funny or amusing but in a way that pushes along the investigative/rhetorical thrust. And three, they always end with some kind of emotional touchstone moment.
I’m sure this will all kicks in with Capitalism: A Love Story, but my first reaction to this trailer was “haven’t we seen Moore dealing with security guys while trying to confront corporate bigwigs a few times before?” It feels a little tired, is all. A little rote.
Paramount has yanked Martin Scorsese‘s Shutter Island out of its long-scheduled 10.2 opening and bumped it into early 2010. The moody insane-asylum thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio, which was heavily ballyhooed with billboard ads at the Cannes Film Festival, will now open on 2.19.10. This despite a report that it’s gotten excellent test scores (high 80s to low 90s). So what happened?
I think Paramount just decided that Shutter Island isn’t a fall (i.e., awards-potential) film and decided to punt. Shutter Island has always looked impressively dark and foreboding to anyone who’s seen the trailer, but are grand guignol films that rely on a big third-act twist generally regarded by Academy types and award-dispensing critics as award-friendly? (The trailer for Shutter Island‘ strongly hints that the third-act turn is in the realm of Alan Parker‘s Angel Heart )
I think it just looks like a cool movie to get off on. Award-level movies are generally about universal themes that touch us all on some level. I’ve never gotten the feeling that Shutter Island is about anything more than a good psychological creep-out.
Nikki Finke has reported that the studio “told the filmmakers it doesn’t have the financing in 2009 to spend the $50 to $60 million necessary to market a big awards pic like this.”
Finke was also told that the sluggish economy and DVD revenues were a factor in the decision. “Given where the DVD business is in 2009, our only hope is the economy and the retail business rebounds in 2010 because the hardest hit segment has been movies that play to an older adult audience,” a studio source told her. Another reason, she was told, is that DiCaprio wasn’t going to be available to promote the pic internationally.
“So the studio settled on the release date of February 19th because ‘that’s when The Silence Of The Lambs came out’ back in ’91 and it won the Oscar,'” Finke’s source confides.
Of course, Silence of the Lambs wasn’t a hit just because it had a great serial-killer in Anthony Hopkins‘ Hannibal Lecter but because it had a great heroine (Jodie Foster‘s Clarice Starling) whom audiences fell for big-time. It was her sympathetic character plus her relationship with Lecter that made Jonathan Demme‘s film work as well as it did.
Shutter Island bilboard at end of Carlton pier during last May’s Cannes Film Festival.
Most of us remember the pre-Titanic buzz during the spring and summer of ’97 — Jim Cameron‘s folly, a wipeout waiting to happen. But it ruled after it opened because it delivered something close to unique and, if you ask me, un-repeatable. Trash it all you want (and it’s an article of faith among most people I know that you must despise it), but Titanic didn’t became a worldwide megahit because it offered a highly believable depiction of a sinking luxury liner.
I’ve explained this before but I thought I’d do so again to answer those saying that Avatar might be another Titanic in terms of ticket sales. No, it almost certainly won’t be. Titanic tapped into a very primal emotional thing by expertly selling the idea that great love affairs never die in the hearts of those who’ve lived through them, and that they live, in fact, beyond death and into eternity. That’s obviously a very sentimental dream and an age-old fantasy (especially popular with supermarket-tabloid readers), the gist being that we all merge with our pasts and our memories and our loved ones at the moment of death.
So snicker and make fun if you want but it was brilliantly sold during the last 12 or so minutes of Titanic, and especially by that very last scene with old Rose (Gloria Stuart) dreaming her way into the sunken ship and coming upon all those who died when it sank, including — standing at the top of the first-class salon staircase — her young lover Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio). And Stuart reverting back to her Kate Winslet self as she walks up the staircase to meet him.
Without these last 12 minutes Titanic most likely would have been a huge success, but with them it became a repeat-viewing phenomenon that just wouldn’t quit.
In terms of getting people where they lived it was probably the greatest happy ending ever devised. In part because it came out of nowhere — the ship had sunk, the story was over and the film seemed to be pretty much winding down — and because it sold an emotional moment that everyone very much wants to believe in.
I wouldn’t mind meeting up with dear ones in some afterrealm. I don’t fancy the idea of my death being equal to the experience of a vacuum cleaner that’s roaring along and sucking up dust until BRRrrrrrrr…someone pulls the plug out of the wall. Who likes the idea of “lights out” and that’s it?
Warren Beatty managed a somewhat similar thing with the ending of Heaven Can Wait. I recall his having once said that if you can persuade people to feel comforted or even serene about death, you’ve got a hit on your hands. The trick, of course, is to make a convincing case for this. Many have tried; very few have succeeded.
So get over the idea that Avatar might replicate this in some way and become as big as Titanic if not bigger. Okay, it might, but it would have to deliver an ending that moves people as much as Titanic‘s did. I just don’t think lightning strikes twice.
Cameron is a legendary filmmaker, but I don’t think he has a magical Midas touch that produces Titanic-level hits when he sets his mind to it, much less snaps his fingers. He’s obviously made super-popular, genre-altering films time and again (Terminator, Aliens, T2, The Abyss, etc.) and he’s probably looking at another hit with Avatar. But he was just lucky or open-pored enough to channel something really special when he wrote and filmed the final 12 minutes of Titanic, and that the odds are that he won’t ever quite do that again.
It’s noteworthy and then some how quickly things have changed for Avatar in the space of 24 hours. Yesterday morning before the online trailer hit, James Cameron‘s upcoming film was (a) the most keenly awaited scifi/fantasy of the year, and (b) about to have its profile bumped up big-time with a nationwide IMAX 3D quickie preview that would surely whet the public’s appetite for the full-length version that’ll open on 12.18. Huge event, crackling excitement.
But in the wake of yesterday’s trashing of the trailer by the elite cineaste/fanboy community and the negative ripple effect this has surely created to some extent, tonight’s IMAX 3D showings have gone from being seen as a bold genius marketing move to a do-or-die, prove-it-or-lose-it attempt to quell the bad buzz (Delgo, video-game graphics, “JarJar Avatar”, “$400 million furry cartoon”, etc.). I actually don’t mean quell as much as turn it around, spin it upwards, change people’s minds, etc.
I don’t mean to sound like a Monday Night Football commentator, but if I had that job in a movie realm I would be standing in front of Leows Lincoln Square six hours from now with a suite and tie and an old-fashioned 1990s hand mike, and saying the following to the camera:
“It didn’t start out this way but tonight’s Avatar preview has suddenly become a kind of Hollywood cliffhanger — a do-or-die chance for James Cameron and 20th Century Fox to turn the buzz around on Avatar among the cutting-edge types who always generate the first buzz-wave about any major film.
“Tonight, Avatar has to prove to the negheads that those who saw a slightly longer 3D reel at ComicCon last month and who’ve since called the film a new synthesis and a step-beyond in terms of big-budget fantasy presentation were on the money, and that Avatar is way, way beyond the realm of Delgo or Ferngully or the Rings trilogy or any other film in the CG-fantasy vein.
“And it has to prove more particularly that the trailer everyone has seen online isn’t really what Avatar is — and that there are many layers and delights and echoes contained in the film that will make Avatar absolutely required viewing when it opens just before Xmas, or four months from now.
“Will Cameron and Fox pull it off? Will yesterday’s neghead naysayers come out of tonight’s preview showings with a different attitude? Can they be turned? Or will they emerge with the same snarky, derisive and dismissive views? We’ll all find out tonight when Avatar faces the music, or more precisely the elite online seers and fanboy prognosticators and dug-in dweebs who live — let’s be honest — to take certain movies down. Whatever happens, we’ll be here reporting tonight starting at 6 pm.”
I just want to make it clear, as I tried to do yesterday, that seeing Avatar in its proper form at ComicCon — big-screen 3D IMAX — revealed a fusion of CG/organic realism that seemed like something really “extra.” It felt to me like an immersion into a real-seeming fantasy place than anything I’ve ever seen in a similar-type realm. (The CG in the Rings trilogy being one example.)
But I’m unqualified to get into the comparisons between Avatar, Delgo and Ferngully because I haven’t seen the latter two animated films. (You know me — I wouldn’t have seen either with a gun at my back.) That said, this Avatar/Delgostill comparison does, in a basic-template sense, speak for itself. I don’t think it’s entirely fair, however, for HE readers who have seen Delgo or Ferngully to compare them to Avatar based on the trailer. If they want to trash Avatar with authority, they’ll first need to catch the 16-minute 3D reel showing everywhere tonight.
At the very least the Avatar/Delgo comparisons may help out poor Delgo, which opened last December and made nothing. Delgo may be, in fact, the biggest proportional box-office wipeout of all time, having cost some $40 million and grossing $694,782. The Delgo DVD came out only two and a half weeks ago (on 8.4).