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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Another BIzarre NYT Story Angle

I really don’t get it.

I have nothing against People Like Us. I kinda like it, for the most part. Chris Pine is the best he’s ever been. Love Michelle Pfeiffer. But the trend story based on utter ignorance doesn’t seem like it should be the standard for The New York Times… a paper I pay for every day.

Every summer since CG started to take over the 4-quadrant movie, there have been a couple of “real world” movies that are big hits. It’s called counterprogramming.

1997 – Air Force One, My Best Friend’s Wedding
1998 – Saving Private Ryan, 3 There’s Something About Mary
1999 – Runaway Bride, Notting Hill, The General’s Daughter, American Pie
2000 – The Perfect Storm. What Lies Beneath
2001 – American Pie 2, The Fast & The Furious, The Princess Diaries
2002 – Signs, Mr Deeds, The Sum of All Fears
2003 – Seabiscuit, SWAT, Freaky Friday, Daddy Day Care
2004 – Fahrenheit 9/11, Collateral
2005 – Wedding Crashers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin
2006 – The Devil Wears Prada, The Break-Up
2007 – Knocked Up, Superbad, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
2008 – Sex and the City, Step Brothers, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, What Happens In Vegas
2009 – The Hangover, The Proposal
2010 – The Karate Kid, Gown Ups, The Other Guys
2011 – The Help, Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher

And those are just the $100m+ domestic grossers.

Now, to be fair, I know that the spin on the story was more The Notebook and Eat Pray Love than broader comedies or action for adults. But even there, Hollywood has been pretty consistent.

1997 – Conspiracy Theory
1998 – Six Days, Seven Nights, Hope Floats
1999 – The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut
2000 – Space Cowboys, Autumn in New York
2001 – America’s Sweethearts, Angel Eyes, crazy/beautiful
2002 – Insomnia, Unfaithful, About a Boy, Windtalkers, Blue Crush, One Hour Photo
2003 – Open Range, Whale Rider
2004 – The Notebook, The Terminal, The Manchurian Candidate, Hero
2005 – Cinderella Man, Crash, Kingdom of Heaven
2006 – World Trade Center, Little Miss Sunshine, The Lake House, The Illusionist
2007 – License to Wed, No Reservations, Mr. Brooks
2008 – Made of Honor, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Swing Vote
2009 – Public Enemies, Julie & Julia, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Funny People, My Sister’s Sister
2010 – Eat Pray Love, Letters To Juliet, The American, Charlie St Cloud
2011 – Crazy, Stupid, Love., Midnight in Paris. Friends With Benefits, Larry Crowne

Or is the Paper of Record a bunch of old farts who are so mired in the early 70s that they can’t see how much MORE of this kind of programming they have available than ever before in the history of entertainment, though theatrical release is not the primary outlet because older people don’t go to the movies in a short window, so bigger budget movies can’t afford to be released expensively in the summer and wait 3 weeks until someone shows up.

That said, there are only sixteen $1m domestic grossers so far this summer. And the ones “for adults” are led by The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($31m and counting), Moonrise Kingdom ($4m and just expanding wider), Girl in Progress ($2.6m so far, in spite of a soft release by Lionsgate), and the $350m worldwide grosser, just starting in the US, The Intouchables.

But the simple reality of People Like Us is that it hopes to be the next in the chain of female-centric, older audience hits, The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia!, Julia & Julia, Eat Pray Love, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and this summer’s Meryl movie, Hope Springs. Nothing wrong with that. Don’t blame the filmmaker or the studio or the publicists… kill the messenger who can’t see too far past the pitch.

(Note: This story originally reflected my assumption that Brooks Barnes wrote this piece as I can’t believe someone as smart and experienced as Michael Cieply could have delivered such a mess.)

24 Responses to “Another BIzarre NYT Story Angle”

  1. anghus says:

    i agree with almost everything in this, except this example:

    The Perfect Storm

    The movie was sold on giant CG waves and that shot of the tiny boat riding up the massive wave.

    To me, Perfect Storm was sold on that as much as Day After Tomorrow was sold on the tidal wave hitting Manhattan.

  2. film fanatic says:

    I view this less as a bungled “trend piece” and more as Alex Kurtzman’s publicist attempting to put the spin out there that his client isn’t a hack.

  3. Krillian says:

    I’d also remove Kingdom of Heaven. That was sold as a Braveheart/Gladiator type movie.

  4. David Poland says:

    I am no fan of Kurtzman & Orci, but AK is clearly trying something different and sincere here… and I think it’s the best screenplay he’s been associated with, though he is very much a first time director, even if he has a great cinematographer and a sizable budget for this kind of film.

    But I respect his choice here. And I think it is the publicist’s job to sell a story… and the journalist’s not to just swallow.

  5. Geno says:

    David, u have been watching the Sandusky trial. “fist time director”?

  6. Roy Batty says:

    Dave, came to the THB expecting to see your reaction to the LAT story today about the supposed “stagnate” domestic movie business (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-pwc-film-study-20120611,0,2023536.story) even though if you do the math yourself overall still sees something like 16% growth.

    My take posted there is:

    If you combine those totals, you still end up with 17% growth from $80B to $96B. But the real meat is in the spin about home video. Digital downloads might be cheaper on the average vs hard copies, but there are no production or transportation costs. But the biggest factor in the this disparity between the drop in discs vs the rise in digital is studios own foot dragging when it came to implementing it, along with a dash of greed. Failing to learn from the record label’s industry-crippling mistake with mp3′s, they too cited piracy concerns and let another generation become accustomed to “free” movies instead of moving quickly to establish legitimate outlets.

    Worse, they continue to price most forms of streaming and downloads far too high. For example, to watch an entire season of a TV show, consumers are asked to spend more than they typically cost on DVD. HD content is ridiculously overpriced. Where’s the staggered pricing from DVD’s glory days where a month(s) old release costs less. Or the mid-week deal where I could get 5 for $5?

    Study after study has shown that given cheap, uncomplicated access most consumers will go that route. There has always been piracy (bootlegs at swap meets), but the current approach is clearly not working.

  7. Mikkel says:

    Doesn’t the article explicitly talk about ‘American’ settings (and thus it excludes The Hangover part II and Fast Five)? That would take a number of titles of your above list (Saving Private Ryan, Kingdom of Heaven, the Woody Allen comedies and a few more).

    Even among your list of recent female-centric hits 3 of the 5 movies include international settings while another name-checks an Italian company.

    The question then becomes not just whether movies are becoming less ‘realistic’, but whether they are becoming less American. If it’s true that companies are increasingly looking towards international grosses, then it could be a valid suggestion, couldn’t it?

  8. Bob Burns says:

    Why is the NY Times entertainment writing/editing about film so consistently bad? It has been for years and years.

    Can anyone explain it? Cronyism?

  9. movieman says:

    No BYOB, so I had no idea where to put this.
    But it seemed bizarre enough to post.
    (I’m assuming the “Paul Schrader” referenced is THE Paul Schrader–i.e., Pauline Kael’s PS.)

    Lindsay Lohan‘s career reboot has taken another peculiar turn: She’s currently in talks to star opposite real-life porn star James Deen in The Canyons, a sex-and-crime thriller scripted by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader. It starts shooting in July, presumably after Lohan has finished shooting the Lifetime Elizabeth Taylor biopic Liz & Dick.

  10. Ray Pride says:

    THE CANYONS has a Facebook page. Paul Schrader posts today: “Despite what may be reported elsewhere, casting on The Canyons is not quite finalized. We’re approaching resolution. When the casting is complete, I’ll write a report about the letitcast process, naming the names of those we were most impressed with as well as anecdotal details. Many wonderful young actors submitted audtions and I like to bring some of them to wider attention. Or at least the wider attention that this website provides. Paul S.”

  11. Not David Bordwell says:

    Poland mentioned MR BROOKS, a movie I happened to catch on THIS the other night. Even edited for television, it was a pretty entertaining adult-oriented DePalma-esque thriller. Costner was not bad in it, and he and William Hurt were kind of a riot in their scenes together. Even Demi Moore is surprisingly good.

    Now, I know it didn’t get critical traction and more or less flopped at the box office, but does anyone know why Evans and Gideon COMPLETELY dropped off the face of the earth since 2007? Was MR BROOKS really an ISHTAR-worthy career ender?

  12. PhilHoad says:

    I have a slightly vested interest in defending the NYT’s theory, as it seems (slightly suspiciously) cadged from a piece I wrote for UK newspaper the Guardian a few months ago:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2012/feb/07/whatever-happened-to-american-blockbusters

    I agree that there’s a problem with Cieply’s in pinning the matter to People Like Us, and trying to make out like “realistic American films” are something new.

    But surely the underlying theory is correct: that increasingly, and certainly now, they are the counter-programming, where at the start of the 90s they were the programming? International audiences and CGI have eroded the feasibility of Americanness and realism respectively.

    Interested to hear your thoughts, David, as I’m going to be writing more on this soon for the newspaper, and trying to fix my opinions on the subject. I had a disagreement with Transformers producer Don Murphy on the subject – I think he would back your point of view…

  13. David Poland says:

    Phil –

    I don’t think you are wrong… but I think your piece overthinks it a bit. It’s more chicken/egg. Studios are trying to pander to international. But that doesn’t prove that “Americanism” is a negative or dying.

    Look at last year’s worldwide Top 10. Only 3 films based primarily or exclusively in the US. But another 3 were sequels whose originals were Americana (Cars/F&F/Hangover). Two were period pieces that were not particularly international, just not based in America (Potter/Pirates). Kung Fu Panda is, obviously, Asian by subject. And Mission: Impossible is a spy series that kinda calls for internationalism as part of its intrigue, not unlike Bond, which is usually set in places other than the UK.

    I don’t see the problem there.

    I do think that 20 years ago, Hangover 2 would be a trip to NYC or Hawaii or something like that. They would not have made a King Fu Panda. And F&F has been making international destinations a part of its resurrection… at home and abroad.

    Also, the primary driver of such a difference in the current growth curves of international vs domestic is exhibition itself… screening countries like China and Russia that were wildly underscreened and underserviced by Hollywood in the past. Also, Home Entertainment in the US is much better established as a model than it all but a few other countries and many of the biggest markets for DVDs/VCDs are piracy heavy.

    In my opinion, Ghostbusters could still be set in NYC and play HUGE overseas… as we saw with Men in Black 3 this summer.

    Speaking of that, your piece is seriously challenged by this year’s crop so far. There are ten movies that have done over $100m internationally and have significant American box office and are not re-releases (Titanic).

    The Avengers, MiB3, Hunger Games, Battleship, American Reunion, and Dark Shadows are all set in America (all but) exclusively. Wrath of the Titans and John Carter are otherworldly (JC starts in the US West). I have no idea where Journey 2 takes place. And Madagascar 3 is about NY zoo animals trying to get back to the US for a third time.

    Of those All-American films, only Battleship even bothers to pander to internationalism… and does a weak job of it, eventually coming to just one Japanese captain on the American ship.

    Spider-Man and Batman are coming… to America. So is Ted. No idea how American the Bourne will be, though that franchise was based on internationalism from the start. And Total Recall is… who knows where… but doesn’t seem to be international in tone, aside from the two leads being from the UK and doing US accents.

    So… you tell me…

  14. David Poland says:

    NDB – It was 10 years between Jungle 2 Jungle and Mr Brooks for Gideon and Evans (who is 65).

    They were off the big show circuit and this modest success didn’t get them back in that game.

  15. Joe Leydon says:

    NDB: Glad to see someone else feeling the love for Mr. Brooks. In addition to the players you mentioned, I would add that the much-criticized Dane Cook gave an effective performance here. In case you’re interested in Costner’s take on the film:

    http://www.moviemaker.com/acting/article/kevin_costner_goes_psycho_2871/

  16. Joe Leydon says:

    NDB: Glad to see someone else feeling the love for Mr. Brooks. In addition to the players you named, I would add that the oft-criticized Dane Cook was quite effective in it. In case you’re interested in Kevin Costner’s take on the film:

    http://www.moviemaker.com/acting/article/kevin_costner_goes_psycho_2871/

  17. Joe Leydon says:

    Have I been placed on some sort of list? I’ve just tried to post twice here, and neither has taken.

  18. Joe Leydon says:

    OK, maybe the third time will be the charm.

    NDB: Glad to see someone else feeling the love for Mr. Brooks. In addition to the players you named, I would add that the oft-criticized Dane Cook was quite effective in it. In case you’re interested in Kevin Costner’s take on the film:

    http://www.moviemaker.com/acting/article/kevin_costner_goes_psycho_2871/

  19. Joe Leydon says:

    Take three:

    NDB: Glad to see someone else feeling the love for Mr. Brooks. In addition to the players you named, I would add that the oft-criticized Dane Cook was quite effective in it. In case you’re interested in Kevin Costner’s take on the film:

    http://www.moviemaker.com/acting/article/kevin_costner_goes_psycho_2871/

  20. Foamy Squirrel says:

    If you have, you’re on The Cool List ™. I’ve had 2 posts eaten by Deadline recently.

  21. PhilHoad says:

    David,

    Thanks for your thoughts; food for contemplation indeed, especially your point about this year’s top 10.

    It’s a difficult point to pin down exactly – I see it as a question of a slow, halting evolution over the last 20 years – and I wouldn’t try and suggest that American settings are “dead”.

    I think “Americana” – RE: Cars/Fast & Furious and a lot of the superhero films – is different to American. It’s more mythic, culturally secondhand and digestible (and thus marketable) – more the *idea* of America rather than the immediate reality, and so it’s more internationally marketable (the critic Tom Shone is very good on how the idea of American culture is more important abroad). So when American settings appear now, I reckon it’s more in this mediated sense, rather than the relatively (though this is still the movies we’re talking about!) unfiltered America of, say, 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon or Point Blank.

    So taking the 10 movies from last year, I’d say the three you mention with origins in Americana support my theory in terms of the way they’re moving away from the US; I’d count Twilight and The Smurfs as old-school-style US-set pieces, and Transformers as a franchise I’d argue is closer to the international-orientated group.

    Pirates/Potter I also see as international in the sense that they’re got a strongly caricatural attitude towards their settings (ie they’re not the real Caribbean/GB) that is more for the benefit of audiences outside those places, as well as a fantasy element that makes them universal (which has been more significant in general over the last decade).

    So I’d argue that 8/10 are playing into the new ballpark to some degree. But, yes, I don’t think an American setting has to kill off a film for overseas audiences per se; it’s more that any kind of strongly defined cultural setting is likely to rule a film out from participating in that top area of the market to start with. They’re designed to be generic.

    I have to work a bit harder with this year’s crop, it’s true! I still a lot of Americana as opposed to American settings, though. Hunger Games and MIB3 are the only two that qualify in the purest sense. Significant also to see a non-US film in there (Intouchables).

  22. David Poland says:

    Joe- You were in the spam filter… I guess because of the links… usually it takes 2 links or ore… weird… all up now.

  23. Not David Bordwell says:

    Joe,

    Thanks…Thanks… Thanks… Thanks… and, Thanks.

    Dane Cook is truly disturbing — and much more effective than Zach Braff would have been.

    ETA: I wish Costner had said more about his rehearsals with Hurt. I thought it was pretty original that Marshall acts more like an old college buddy who knows you a little too well than a sibling or a Tyler Durden… I wonder how they arrived at that.

  24. cadavra says:

    David, FYI, JOURNEY 2 starts and ends in America, but the bulk of it takes place on a Pacific island.

    And POTTER is not a period piece; it takes place in the present day, as the scenes set in London clearly prove.

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