Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.
I like to look at Box Office results as much as the next guy, and Travis Leamons week in and week out gets to the heart of matter, but normally I place as much stock in box office revenues as I do in Rotten Tomato ratings. Anyone who thinks that a RT score or a box office gross is a justification for why they like a film that I didn’t is probably someone who has licked a window in the relatively recent past. My thinking has always been that just because a lot of people thought it was good doesn’t necessarily mean I have to. The power of cinema is that it becomes a unique and different perspective for everyone; it’s why I like reading multiple reviews of a film that focus on different aspects of it. We like and dislike films for different reasons and diversity of opinion is a good thing.
But using numbers as a means of cancelling out arguments like “the plot wasn’t engaging” or “I think people are really over-rating this film” annoys me. I put someone who goes “Well, it has a 90% Rotten Tomato score” or “But it made $300 million at the box office” to justify their admiration of a film I didn’t like in the same category as the person who goes “Well, it’s not meant to be good” when it comes to film. It’s a weak sauce excuse and the last bastion of those trying to defend a film; I disliked The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises and I’ve heard those arguments so many times it’s annoying.
I had this argument on a date with a girl that ended up going nowhere; she loved both of those films and my arguments against both films being “quality” films ended up with “But critics liked it” and “It made a lot of money.” It’s the last refuge of those who know they’re wrong in an argument. In Latin it’s “Argumentum ad populum” and I’m not a fan to say the least of that kind of argument. It pops up a lot amongst film fans as a last resort; it’s grasping for straws at its finest. It’s not that box office grosses don’t have a place, much like RT scores, in that they can help us paint the big picture. Unfortunately the people who rely on these things as part of an argument about a film’s quality (or lack thereof) are riding the short bus.
Box office grosses can tell us a lot when it comes to analyzing cinema on a grander scale; opening weekends are a good gauge to a franchise’s health and a star’s power for example. International grosses can explain why some actors still get big leading roles when they don’t draw well domestically in another example. Things like why a franchise doesn’t go on despite looking successful, etc, can all begin to come into the picture on a financial scale that measures the landscape that is film and movies.
Hollywood is a business, after all, which is why the success of 2016: Obama’s America starts to fascinate me. I didn’t think much of it and only saw it because it was starting at the time I was at the theatre. Twenty minutes in either direction and it probably would’ve another viewing of The Amazing Spider-Man or Ted but time, and luck, put me in the crosshairs of a documentary and I am a sucker for them. I didn’t think much of the film, of course, and you can read that review here. As a film I wasn’t a fan for a lot of reasons, though I’m not exactly a fan of the President, but I can’t be that guy that gives a film a good review because it’s closer to my political persuasion as opposed to its cinematic merits.
Here’s the thing, though: its success as a film can teach us a lot about the state of film-making and Hollywood right now.
– The faith based type of marketing can work
Deadline reported on how a good chunk of this film’s box office grosses has come from unlikely sources. The $20mm or so that the film has made is impressive, especially for a documentary, but how the film is getting people out to see the film en masse is something Hollywood can learn from. With no significant publicity & advertising dollars spent (or marketing budget outside of the web) they’ve essentially road worth of mouth and talk radio buzz to sell as many tickets as it cost in dollars to make the film or so.
– There’s an entire audience Hollywood isn’t reaching
You know who’s coming out to see Dinesh D’Souza’s film? People who don’t normally see films because of what is perceived as Hollywood bias against them. And after watching a film like The Watch it’s easy to see why; Hollywood kind of insults middle America regularly enough that plenty of people would rather wait until a film hits cable television than pay money to see it in theatres or on DVD. This is the audience that has been driven away, en masse, and doesn’t come to the theatre anymore to watch most movies if any at all. It’s essentially a smaller version of the same crowd that came out to see Mel Gibson’s Jesus Chainsaw Massacre, better known as The Passion of the Christ.
– The weak slate of Hollywood film-making has finally caught up
There’s a reason why 2016: Obama’s America is able to continually find so many screens despite its fairly small scope and documentary status: theatre chains and owners have no faith in the ability of Hollywood studio fare to draw. 2016 just crossed the two month status in theatres, gently expanding, and yet drew nearly as much as Bradley Cooper in The Words and outdrew Henry Cavill in The Cold Light of Day. They wouldn’t be willing to expose a film like this, despite its impressive credentials and per screen averages, if faith in anything a studio would send could do as well. In a down economy and the gimmick of 3D finally wearing off we’re seeing theatre chains taking a chance on what’s inherently risky fare like 2016.
– Word of mouth can be effective with the right film
The one thing that social media allows us to do now is be able to see people’s reactions quicker than ever. The water cooler has been replaced by the Twitter feed (and you can follow meright here @ScottSawitz) and 2016, in a year of remarkably nasty political banner, has been talked about enough that people who wouldn’t have normally heard of it until it popped up on a shelf at the local Target now can read what people think of it in real time. Plus finding a show time is a click away, of course, and the people who dislike Hollywood for all the usual reasons (and stay away from movies for the same) are more and more finding this film.
– Michael Moore’s bloviating, deceptive style can be duplicated by anyone
Dinesh D’Souza’s film had that feeling you get when you watch a Michael Moore film; it’s the “yeah this is a documentary but it feels off” type of feeling. Moore has made a career out of adjusting the truth, of course, and now we’re seeing what happens when someone on the opposite side of the spectrum does it.
This Week’s DVD – The Girl Who Played With Fire
One of the more interesting things about the Millennium trilogy has been the differences between The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. Dragon was a film made for theatres but its sequels were really more like a five hour made for television event with a cliffhanger ending. You could tell when they made released them in American theatres that they weren’t designed as theatrical releases, or even DTV releases, but as television films.
The Girl Who Played with Fire joins us many months after the events of the first film. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has returned to Sweden to handle some business. The man who attacked her, and later got some epic revenge, is now looking to get some tattooed reminders from Lisbeth removed. She doesn’t want any of that, of course, but when he (and a bunch of others) winds up dead she’s the leading suspect. Her lover/friend Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) is back to try and figure out her innocence as well as solve a sex trafficking case presented to him for the magazine.
It’s not nearly as good as Dragon, of course, but that film was brilliant. This is just really good; considering it wasn’t filmed with a movie audience in mind, because it starts us out fresh from the first film. This isn’t a story continuation, as that film was wrapped up neatly in a bow when everything was said and done, as we get to see what happened to everyone after the events of the film. Exploring more into this twisted world, it’s a worthy sequel.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club
Finding Nemo (3D) – Pixar goes for the cash grab by going after the 3D audience for the film that didn’t exist back then.
See It – It’s still a great children’s film and I imagine that they wouldn’t release it in 3D if it wasn’t a great transfer
Resident Evil: Retribution – Alice is back … again
Skip It – The first one wasn’t all that good and the rest have basically been the same film, quality wise.
The Master (Limited Release) – P.S Hoffman starts a cult that’s an awful lot like Scientology.
See It – It’s been getting a ton of awards at major festivals and has an insane level of buzz. TWC doesn’t bump a film up several months because they’re trying to run from it.
Arbitrage (Limited Release) – Richard Gere has been a con man or something.
See It – The film has been getting solid to middling reviews but Gere is near-universally looked at as insanely brilliant in it.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .