Movie Hardball #2

Hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Movie Hardball, the column that has as many questions as a baseball game has innings. In this edition I discuss The King of the World with a couple of guys who obviously haven’t seen The Terminator enough: Scott “Big Poppa Kubryk” Sawitz and Mike “Bringin’ Da” Noyes. Kubryk is the Popcorn Junkies’ rock, guiding light, and editor. Noyes is on loan from the DVD Lounge and is known to pop up randomly in the Popcorn Junkies Forum. Both know what they are talking about, so listen up.

1. The Dark Knight has made mucho dinero but is beginning to peter out, will there ever be a film that tops Titanic at the box office? Why or why not?

Scott: No, there won’t. Why? A couple reasons, actually, but mainly the key is release length in theatres. Films don’t last in theatres for extended runs as they used to. Go back 20 years ago. A film could spend four to six months, easy, in the big theatre chains. When was the last time a film had that kind of run in theatres in the modern era of movies? Films are released in theatres now to maximize profit before the DVD gets released, as the home video market has expanded significantly since the days of Titanic. If Titanic was released now, it wouldn’t make as much in theatres as it did 10 years ago because it wouldn’t have lasted as long in theatres. Dark Knight won’t be in theatres that long; if it lasts four months total I’d be shocked, because it’ll be the centerpiece DVD of the holiday season this year. If this was 1995, Dark Knight would be in theatres until November. Now, if it lasts until Halloween it’d be shocking. Unless a film gets an extended run in theatres for at least six months, and continues to have Top 5 finishes in weekly box offices for the bulk of the time, will a film have a shot at going for Titanic‘s box office receipts.

Mike: With such a strong opening weekend I thought for sure The Dark Knight would stand a chance at beating that ridiculous record. Sadly it seems it won’t. And honestly, with all the elements (good and bad) lined up to make The Dark Knight as financially successful as it was I doubt we’ll be seeing anything that comes close to it any time soon. To this day it still boggles my mind that Titanic did as well as it did. I saw it in the theaters; I thought it was pretty weak. The only part of the movie I enjoyed was when the boat sank at the end. It was too long and dare I say, too water logged. Maybe the general public of 1997 was just so hard up for entertainment that they kept going back. Or maybe the general public of 1997 was just a bunch of idiots and didn’t know a bad film when they saw one. Or maybe films were cheap enough to see in the theater ten years ago that you could go see a film 10 times and wouldn’t put too much of a dent in your pocket book. I saw Batman Begins three times in the theater and while I psychotically loved The Dark Knight, I’ve only seen it once.

John: Scott and Mike both make great assessments on how the movie industry and movie audiences have changed in the last decade. With that said, it seems plainly obvious that inflation should someday push a movie past Titanic‘s still unbelievable record. But that is a cheap answer, and I won’t resort to it. Titanic was an old time movie in style, presentation, and audience response and I have to agree that something that can capture a massive audience like that again is a thing of the past. We’re talking a reconceptualization of what cinema can offer audiences. As a side note, I want to note that Titanic supposedly hasn’t even made money yet because of all the money tied up in its production and promotion, so success is relative.

2. Titanic was considered a perfect blend of entertainment that was appealing to most every demographic. What do you envision a film that could out earn Titanic to be like?

Scott: It has to be several things, but the most important thing is that it has to appeal to women to keep coming back. That’s why Titanic drew what it did, is that women came back en masse with their spouses. Any major grossing film has to have that factor.

Mike: Let’s see the elements of Titanic: 1) Sappy uninspired love story. 2) Well known historical tragedy. 3) A director known for his science fiction films. 4) A crappy hit song by a Canadian. 5) Too pretty and popular up and coming actors.

So if we plug in those same elements to today: 1) Maintain sappy uninspired love story. 2) Either a film about Katrina or September 11. 3) Gore Verbinski breaks away from his Pirates of the Caribbean run. 4) Alanis Morrisette is hit up for a song. 5) Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Page.

John: As much as it hurts me to the core of my soul to say it, I am slowly learning that marketing and targeting an audience is the way for a film to make money. Actual quality is distant second. The Dark Knight is a perfect example because even if the movie had not met expectations, Warner Brothers already scored the big payday. I guess that is a fancy way of saying I have no idea what a movie that could out earn Titanic would look like, but neither does anyone in Hollywood. I agree with Scott and Mike though, if the movie doesn’t appeal to women in some way, it doesn’t stand a chance.

3. Is Titanic a modern classic? Why or why not?

Scott: No. There’s no accounting for taste, apparently, as it’s a big epic film that’s really good but not a modern classic. Watch it now and it has aged significantly, as the magic that it had in the 1990s isn’t there anymore. And I think it’s too early to call any film a modern classic; classic status is twenty years from release, I think, as two decades of time will show if it has become a classic. It’s the reason why people don’t remember which film beat out Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon for an Oscar.

Mike: God no! I mean, I’m sure there are some people out there who would think so. But like I said above, it’s a damn dreadful film. The plot is tepid at best and the acting is bland accept for Kathy Bates. I’m sure it will go down in film history as a classic just because of its financial success and Oscar hoarding, but never in my book will it be considered as such.

John: Sometimes I wonder how I got involved with the Junkies since my opinion on things is a stark contrast, but then again variety IS the spice of life. In other words, I love Titanic, but only over the last few years have I come to see it as a classic at least in terms of the old school classics like Gone With the Wind. In fact, I see Titanic as a companion piece to that more or less universal number one classic. But Titanic is an anomaly, and as such it is hard to recognize its worth when it is surrounded by a culture that isn’t looking for its kind anymore. Released 50 or more years ago and film students would be watching Titanic along with all the standard faire. Before anyone suggests, no I do not think that movie would suffer without the top notch special effects.

4. James Cameron has not directed a feature film since Titanic. Avatar comes out next year; are you excited for it? Do you think it will be successful? Why or why not?

Scott: I’m not particularly excited for Avatar, actually. I’m not a huge Cameron fan, even though I love a number of his films, but this is kind of the Chinese Democracy of films. It’s been rumored for so long, Cameron’s been developing the technology, etc, that now I’m sort of ambivalent about it. Five years ago I stopped caring when Cameron would make another film in the same way I stopped caring when Francis Ford Coppola would. Will it be successful? That’s hard to tell…there hasn’t been a trailer or anything but plot summaries that are probably inaccurate. I think on name recognition alone Cameron’s film won’t be a hit, but if he delivers a good film it’ll most likely be a hit.

Mike: Well, he’s getting back to his science-fiction roots which is nice. I’m sure I’ll see it, but I can’t say I’m excited. With the biggest names in the film being Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi plus it being a science fiction action movie I seriously doubt it will come anywhere near the financial success of Titanic. However, if it’s a good enough film it might remind people that he really is a good director. With a film like this though, I’m sure he’ll be happy to break even or at the very least, make a few bucks.

John: Call me a dreamer, but I think this movie is going to be a big deal. It sounds unique and I truly believe that Cameron has deprived filmgoers of his talents for far too long. My hope is that he still has it and that a new generation will see that. If not there will always be The Terminator and Aliens and True Lies and…

5. Will James Cameron still be relevant a decade after his last directorial effort?

Scott: He’s not relevant now. Can he be relevant again? He has to make a good film, period, to be relevant. He’s had 11 years to work on this, so if it’s mediocre he’ll be just another director whose best work is behind him.

Mike: He can be. It really depends on how good the movie is. Look at say, Robert Downey, Jr; a few years ago he was more or less washed up, career over. Now he’s at the top of his game making some of his best films. That is what’s so great about the movie industry: People go away, but it never means they won’t come back.

John: On the flipside of my last answer, I actually fear for the worst here. As I said, Cameron has been gone for way too long to do anything but succeed. If this movie doesn’t open big, say goodbye to the King of the World. That’s okay though, because we will always have The Abyss and Terminator 2 and…

6. Cameron is using a new 3D digital camera technique for Avatar, do you think that his successes in advancing film technology are less than, on par, or above that of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas?

Scott: It all depends if he can pull it off. If it’s a good film, then technology will enhance it. However if the film is more about the technology than it is about a good story, etc, then it’ll be just another advancement.

Mike: I think only time will tell with that one. For now I’ll say less than but I’m by no means holding myself to that. We won’t really know till Avatar comes out how great or not his new film technology is or if it will be popular enough to be picked up by other production companies. But if it’s really impressive and paves a way for a whole new future in filmmaking who knows, it could be pretty important.

John: After listing all his work I have come to realize that James Cameron has not directed very many movies. But the ones he has directed have almost all been progressive. I would say his technological contribution percentage ranks close to Spielberg but probably can’t touch Lucas’ team. His vision, however, competes closely with Spielberg and beats the ever-loving crap out of latter day Lucas.

7th Inning Stretch – Name your three favorite movies of the summer of 2008.

Scott: The Dark Knight – I don’t see how any film is going to be better than this at the end of the year. Chris Nolan raised expectations significantly and delivered a classic.

Henry Poole is Here – A terrific indy flick with one of my favorite actors, Luke Wilson.

Step Brothers – This is a guilty pleasure, but markedly hilarious.

Mike: Of the whopping 17 films I’ve seen this year:

1) The Dark Knight
2) Tropic Thunder
3) Pineapple Express

John: Wow, second place can barely see the finish line:

1) The Dark Knight
3) Pineapple Express

8. True or False: The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading will be a good follow-up after last year’s No Country For Old Men. Why?

Scott: False – Nothing about this film makes me excited to see it in the way NCFOM did. I think this is going to be a film that everyone goes ga-ga over but really isn’t that good, like the Jesse James film last year.

Mike: It is a perfect follow up. The Coen Brothers are one of the few filmmakers out there who can jump from drama to comedy without batting an eye and make brilliant films in both genres. They started out with the film noir Blood Simple and followed it with one of the funniest films of the 80’s, Raising Arizona. No Country For Old Men earned them the industry praise they’ve deserved for so long but my favorite film of theirs is still The Big Lebowski. I’m really excited for Burn After Reading and wouldn’t be surprised to find it on the list above after I’ve seen it.

John: Me? I’m just excited to see Brad Pitt and John Malkovich in a Coen Brothers movie.

9. In honor of Nicolas Cage’s upcoming Bangkok Dangerous: Which actor is most capable of making a bad movie tolerable?

Scott: Denzel Washington, easily. I can’t think of a bad film with him in it, but even a bad one seems good because he’s always great.

Mike: Geez, certainly not Nick Cage. If anything, he’s capable of taking a potentially tolerable movie and making intolerable. I mean he does make great films; they’re just few and far between. But to answer your question I’m gonna go with Christopher Walken. He’ll do just about anything and he does a LOT of crap, but even in his crap films he’s always enjoyable. My most recent example for this would be Balls of Fury. It wasn’t very good, but it did have a few laughs and most of those were provided by Walken.

John: I considered making this an either or question between Nicolas Cage and Denzel Washington. Get out of my head, Kubryk! Walken is a great answer as well. But for my money I have to stay loyal to Nicolas Cage. I wish I could say that there was a movie of his I don’t like, but I’m not gonna lie to you. That would be a bad way for us to say goodbye for this edition. Instead I will just tell you to get your hands off the bunny.

Editor’s Note: Sorry about the late posting, as this was originally set up for September 3rd. Due to various cheeky shenanigans Movie Hardball #2 was postponed for a week. It will be returning to a regular scheduled appearance for September 10th and every other week from there on.

Originally there was to be Lauren Leigh Fightin’ Around the World every other week, where Lauren would travel to exotic places for auditions in her zamboni to instigate altercations with strangers of different nationalities. It regretfully has been put on permanent hiatus. A replacement column, featuring Danny Cox in festive shorts, will be announced in the near future.

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