Plexes should extend that satisfaction-or-your-money-back offer for all films, all the time…except for big crowd-pleasers like Fantastic Four, Bewitched, etc. Nobody will lose any money (it’s been reported that only a relative handful have asked AMC and Cinemark theatre staffers for their money back after seeing Cinderella Man) and it might goose things up a bit.
Another way of boosting theatre biz would be to adopt my idea of selling time-passes to plexes, in which the patron buys a ticket to a particular film but also, for an extra two or three bucks, buys a pass permitting him/her to wander around from theatre to theatre free and clear in order to sample the various attractions or simply see another film. I do this all the time under the ushers’ noses. If I don’t like something, I slip out and try some other film…or I see pieces of two or three films, just to get an idea of how they play. This way I never feel burned when I leave. Exhibitors need to remove that feeling of having been taken (“I blew $30 bucks to see this piece of shit?”) that so many moviegoers have these days on their way to the parking lot.
End of Something
There’s more than a sense of unease in theatres across the land this summer. It’s something like mild panic, and is based upon fears that the “slump” affecting ticket sales this summer isn’t a slump but something more fundamental.
I’m not saying anything new here, but stories about the months-long slump keep coming and the authors keep missing the overall picture. The issue isn’t that movie attendance is “soft” this summer. The issue is that the fundamental idea of going out to the movies is losing its hold on the film-going populace. And I may be way behind the curve in using the word “losing.”
Certain industry-watchers are in denial about this (and you know who I mean), but there’s no hiding from this any longer: we’re experiencing a seismic shift in attitudes about how, when and where to get our entertainment fix.
It’s not a welcome thing to consider, but the hard fact is that the good old “let’s go to the movies so we can have fun and have something to talk about later over drinks” option is starting to slip down the pole a bit.
Seeing movies in theatres is being slowly de-popularized and retired by different demos for different reasons. I’m calling it the Big Fade.
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The fade is on because the movie-going experience costs too much, which is happening because greedy actors and their agents have pushed their fees into the upper stratosphere. The higher the fees, the bigger the budgets…which in turn has forced studio-based producers to back away from making adult-friendly middlebrow movies and concentrate more and more on theme-park movies, which has pushed away the adults.
The fade is on because everyone knows this weekend’s movies will be in DVD stores in four to six months (if not sooner), so what’s the rush? For people like myself going to a new film in a theatre (especially a really good one) is an essential habit, but for more and more people the urge to see movies as soon as they’re released is not what it used to be.
The fade is on because kids (and you’ve heard this a million times) have all kinds of entertainment options at their disposal — video games, DVD watchings, online diversions, illegal movie downloads — and a lot of them are cheaper than going to movies in theatres.
The fade is on because older people don’t like the prices and having to listen to bozos talk during the movie, along with those laughably absurd prices for popcorn and cokes and having to sit through those awful TV ads.
The fade is on because paying $30 or $35 (minimum) to take yourself and a date to see Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a totally rancid hell-movie you’ll barely want to rent when it hits DVD next November or December, is a repugnant joke.
I’m told that Steven Soderbergh’s Che, which has been delayed and delayed and delayed, will finally roll film in Bolivia five months from now (i.e., December), with Benicio del Toro playing the legendary revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
When I called to double-check Wednesday morning my guy wasn’t there and he didn’t call back, so check back Thursday for the final confirm.
The script by Soderbergh, Terrence Malick and Benjamin van der Veen isn’t about the Cuban period or any of the triumphs of Guevara’s life, but will focus entirely on the last failed chapter in his life, which was about trying to ignite a violent insurgency in Bolivia.
Guevara’s efforts in this regard resulted in his capture and execution by Bolivian authorities in 1967.
In other words, I’m hearing that Che (which I can’t seem to find a script of) will be the spiritual and political opposite of Walter Salles’ The Motorycycle Diaries, which was about youth and adventure and the birth of Che’s political conscience.
It will be about the end of the road…about death and pushing it too far…about falling out of touch and running out of gas…about manic political thinking taking over everything.
I’ve still no idea whether Soderbergh will shoot the film in English (which would be ghastly…a Richard Fleischer idea!) or in Spanish, or perhaps in both languages to assuage the fears of distributors about alienating both the English- and Spanish-speaking audiences for the film.
The dual-language option seems like the only way to go. It would seem fraudulent for the same director who shot those great Spanish-language sequences in Traffic to film the life of Guevara with various actors speaking in Spanish-inflected English…no?
Steven Soderbergh, presumably during filming of Ocean’s 12 in Amsterdam.
If Fred Zinneman could shoot two takes of every scene in his 1955 film of Oklahoma! (one in 35mm Scope and another in 70mm Todd-AO), Soderbergh can certainly handle a similar discipline.
Soderbergh’s most recent film is Bubble, an under-the-wire Section Eight production about the “residents of a small Ohio town unraveling a murder mystery” (per the IMDB). He’ll presumably start pre-production on Che sometime in September.
Ernest Lehman, who died Saturday at age 89, wrote a lot of first-rate screenplays, including the ones for Sweet Smell of Success, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Somebody Up There Likes Me. But for me, he’ll always be the North by Northwest guy.
I have enjoyed the dialogue from this Alfred Hitchcock film all my life. All right, some of it feels a bit clunky and cornball-y at times, but I’ve always loved the way the actors — Cary Grant, James Mason, Martin Landau, Jesse Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll — make it work by finessing it just so.
The late Ernest Lehman
If you’re as into this film as I am, you’ll enjoy reading Lehman’s original script. You should also give a listen to Lehman’s commentary track on the North by Northwest DVD.
I’ve always enjoyed the constant references made to Grant’s (i.e, Roger Thornhill’s) acting within the film. His always being asked to play a part, and being told he’s either doing it well or not well enough. As in this scene with Mason’s Phillip Van Damm…
Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then, but I have tickets to the theatre this evening, and to a show I was looking forward to. And I get…well, kind of unreasonable about things like that.
With such expert play acting you make this very room a theatre.
And this one in the Chicago auction room….
The famous R.O.T. matchbook containing a scrawled message (“They’re on to you — I’m in you room”) being inspected by Eva Marie Saint under the watchful eyes of James Mason and Martin Landau.
Has anyone ever told you that you overplay your various roles rather severely, Mr. Kaplan? First you’re the outraged Madison Avenue man who claims he’s been mistaken for someone else. Then you play a fugitive from justice, supposedly trying to clear his name of a crime he knows he didn’t commit. And now you play the peevish lover, stunned by jealousy and betrayal. It seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI and a little more from the Actor’s Studio.
Apparently the only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead.
Your very next role. You’ll be quite convincing, I assure you.
For some reason the following is my favorite Northwest exchange. It never makes any sense trying to explain these things – some lines just do it for you. Thornhill and his mother (Landis) are “hotel-breaking” inside the Plaza, and he goes into the bathroom to inspect the toiletries used by the fictitious “George Kaplan.”
Bulletin. [A bathroom product of the `50s.] Kaplan has dandruff.
Tedium on Ice
No one has pointed out the one big problem with Luc Jacquet’s March of the Penguins (Warner Independent). The Emperor penguins are cute and likable, etc., but the movie is oppressively boring after 45 minutes or so because the birds spend way too much time walking in caravans.
The females go diving for fish at one point and the males spend weeks and weeks huddling against the blizzard with penguin eggs between their legs, but mostly they just walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and walk.
The reason they do this is because their mating, birthing and feeding patterns are irrational and rather dumb. I’m speaking specifically of the birds’ decision to annually march 100 kilometers from their feeding grounds near the sea to their nesting grounds. All of the penguin lunacy flows from this one thing.
Why march 100 kilometers to lay eggs? Antarctica is cold all over and full of snow and mountains everywhere you look, so what’s the difference where you lay the eggs as long as the chicks have a decent chance of being protected?
Why don’t the penguins lay the eggs closer to the sea so the females don’t have to walk 100 kilometers to catch fish for their young, and the males don’t have to tough it out for weeks with the eggs between their legs? You’d have to be insane to live anywhere except near the water because (hello?) that’s where the fish are and who needs all that relentless trudging around?
With other animal docs you can always figure out why lions do they do what they do, or elephants or hippos or beavers or whatever. There’s a certain natural logic to their game of survival. But not with the emperor penguins.
Why, then, are so many people going to this film and telling their friends about it? Why have so many critics given it a pass? Because cute animals always slide. Way of the world.
New York Stock Exchange facade on Wall Street — Monday, 7.4, 7:50 pm.
Portion of Szilvia Seke, diner in John’s Italian restaurant, 12th Street near 2nd Avenue — Tuesday, 7.6, 10:15 pm.
Early 20th Century fountain in park just south of City Hall
(l. to r.) Nancy Porter, Holly Porter, Jett Wells at 4th of July party at home of Robert Sharer of Westfield, New Jersey — Saturday, 7.2, 7:55 pm.
Last Monday’s fireworks from the South Street Seaport
Restaurant sign in Westfield, New Jersey near train station — Saturday, 7.3, 1:20 pm.
G train to L train, Brooklyn’s Lorimer station — Monday, 7.4., 11:40 pm.
Forget the talk that Cruise’s cultish orgasms of late have sabotaged War of the Worlds. The real reason it’s underperforming is the putrid word of mouth. I’ve had no less than SIX friends call me immediately after seeing it, pissed at the typical Spielberg tacked-on ending. And when I say pissed, I mean incensed. His hackneyed amending of A.I. was legendarily bad, and the buzz is that this is on par with that. Kubrick is nodding vigorously in his grave.
Nine years after I saw Swingers and right after wrote a Mr. Showbiz piece insisting that this then-svelte, 77-inch-tall actor was the hot new guy, Vince Vaughn has been toasted with his very own Newsweek profile by Devin Gordon, who calls him an attitude comedian who’s finally come into his own. The story is basically a tribute to Vaughn’s allegedly very cool performance in The Wedding Crashers (which nearly every journo and media person in Manhattan will finally get to see this Thursday evening), but why do I have this feeling that the Newsweek editors decided to okay the piece only after they picked up on the Us rumble about Vaughn possibly being Jennifer Aniston’s first-guy-since-Brad-Pitt on the set of The Break Up? Why do I suspect that, even if it’s bullshit (which is what Aniston and Vaughn are saying)?
Does everyone understand what happened last weekend to poor George Romero? On its second weekend Romero’s Land of the Dead nose-dived 73.4% and ended up with a $16,209,660 cume. This doesn’t just mean that younger audiences didn’t care for Romero’s film, but also that his zombie visions are out-of-synch with the times. The old-fogey, slow-shuffling zombies who made their legendary debut in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead 37 years ago are done for — the fast-sprinting zombies in Danny Doyle’s 28 Days Later and the ones in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake obviously have struck more of a chord. Romero himself has been retired by Land‘s financial failure. All the middle-aged hip journalists love and respect the guy but this was his big comeback shot and it didn’t happen, and now he’s more or less fucked as far as the financial tough guys are concerned.
I’ve gotta jump into this reporters-going-to-jail thing for a second. It’s too bad that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is being a total prick and urging that Time reporter Matthew Cooper and the New York Times reporter Judith Miller be sent to the slammer for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigating the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert C.I.A. operative. It’s a little bit wimpy for Cooper and Miller to ask to be sent to a couple of summer-camp prisons, but it’s still incredibly shitty of Fitzgerald to say no, fuck you, do your time with hard-core cons in a jail somewhere around D.C. Today’s New York Times story reports that a Judge Hogan held the reporters in civil contempt last October and sentenced them to up to 18 months in jail. These sentences were suspended while the reporters appealed, however, and it now looks like the maximum time the reporters will face is 120 days, as the term of the grand jury will expire in October. That’s it? Jimmy Cagney or George Raft could do four months standing on their heads in Sing Sing or San Quentin. On the other hand, Fitzgerald has suggested in a recent filing that criminal prosecution is also a possibility. “The court should advise Miller that if she persists in defying the court’s order that she will be committing a crime,” he wrote in a 21-page briefing about Miller’s position. “Miller and The New York Times appear to have confused Miller’s ability to commit contempt with a legal right to do so.”
A survey of moviegoer response to War of the Worlds done last week (or weekend) is coming up “fair,” which is roughly equivalent to a CinemaScore rating of about 70. This means it’s going to see a fairly steep drop in business next weekend — not catastrophic but precipitous.
In Sharon Waxman’s latest box-office-slump story in the N.Y. Times, she reports that Paramount executives are seeing no evidence of any War of the Worlds revenue slippage due to Tom Cruise’s eccentric behavior on the promo circuit. “[Cruise’s] audience came out in greater numbers than ever before” for this film, Paramount vice-chairman Rob Friedman tells Waxman. “I think the world separates the star and celebrity from a movie actor and the performance on screen, and this shows that completely.” I’m hearing this is precisely what Par execs are not discerning in the tea leaves. I’m told there’s been some muttering in the hallways that War could have made closer to $140 or $150 million over the first six days if Cruise hadn’t acted like a wackjobber on the talk shows. The fact that Waxman quotes notoriously obsequious industry cheerleader Paul Dergarabedian as supporting the Cruise-linkage theory speaks volumes. “Those who had in mind that they wanted to see the movie, [the Cruise shenanigans] didn’t have any effect,” he said. “But if you’re a person who has a strong feeling about what Tom Cruise said, you might say, ‘I don’t want to support that movie.'”
“Like the rivets popping off the wing of an airliner”….good one! The Tom Wolfe-ian wordsmith is D.J. LaChapelle, webmaster for TomCruiseIsNuts.com. The quote was given to Daily News “Lowdown” columnist Lloyd Grove: “What really inspired us was Tom’s appearance on the Today show. His body language, the way he got in Matt Lauer’s face — it was all pretty amazing. Watching one of America’s best actors coming unglued — like the rivets popping off the wing of an airliner — there’s a kind of fascination.”
That $113.3 million that War of the Worlds earned over the last six days since opening last Wednesday (6.29) may sound good in the trade stories, but believe me, Paramount distribution execs are disappointed. “They’re crying about this,” a marketing veteran is telling me, because “they didn’t make the $150 million they were hoping for over the first six days.” And now they’re probably looking at only $200 million or a bit more domestically. (They’ll have $150 or $160 million by the end of next weekend, and then the fall-off will kick in more severely.) Add in video and foreign and they’re looking at a break-even finale for a feature that cost at least $135 million (Roger Friedman reported $182 million), not counting the $50 or $60 million in marketing costs. (Par co-financed Worlds with DreamWorks.) At least part of the grief and the groaning is over the Scientology-proselytizing by WoTW star Tom Cruise. Some observers believe he shaved the first-six-day gross by $40 million by doing his Scientology nutso stump speech on various interview shows (like that Today appearance with Matt Lauer) and ranting against Shields’ use of medication to ward off post-partum depression, etc. “They knew they had a problem picture on their hands,” the observer says about the Paramount team, “but they thought they could get $150 million for the opening week…but they didn’t get it because of that lunatic. I know people who are saying they won’t go to another picture of his. He’s become another Mel Gibson. Movie stars are like royalty…once they fall of the throne, they can’t it back again.”
I’m hearing “no,” “forget it,” “terrible,” etc. on Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, 7.8), which I never wanted to see anyway, and a friend of a close relation is saying Walter Salles’ Dark Water (Disney, 7.8) doesn’t make it. (How could that be? The hand of Walter Salles has been nothing if not assured in his past films.) I’d normally wait and make my own calls in the proper time frame, but there haven’t been any Manhattan screening invites in my inbox. The downbeat Dark Water word will probably translate into a weak box-office showing, but Fantastic Four is expected to debut hugely.