The Hot Blog Archive for December, 2009
It was an odd year. So much to mourn… so much to look forward to…
May it be great for all of you.
After I read Monika Bartyzel’s December 27th piece n Cinematical, ‘Avatar’ and the Death of Storytelling, my instinct was to explain in some detail why this was wrongheaded.
Four days and a third view of the film from start to finish later and I am less inclined to do so… because the argument Bartyzel makes is so lame and unsupportable by anything other than the hubristic urge to piss on what’s popular, it is not worth my time or yours. Somehow, we are supposed to just buy the premise that the storytelling is weak… and discuss from there.
To give the author and those who wish to dance naked in the warm drool of the headline their due, the headline is more clear in its argument than the wandering, unfocused article. Bartyzel seems to suffer the child-journalist’s difficulty (and I have no idea how old or experienced Bartyzel is… the name has never registered with me before) of confusing personal disappointment with the objective failure of others. Worse is the rhetorically moronic trope of “if they had only made an effort!” Oy.
To wit: “(How the frak can James Cameron have cooked this story up for a decade, waiting for technology to catch up with his vision, and not want the story to be killer?”
“What could Cameron have done? It seems all too simple — workshop the script, get advice from trusted names, put similar effort into all aspects of the film.”
Or, hey, he could have made Avatar into a blog and just pulled stuff out of his ass instead of making the movie.
Do I think that Cameron should have found someone he trusted who would have told him that some of the clinker lines in the film could have been smoothed down? Yes. But a half-dozen pieces of overly gung-ho dialogue is not “the end of storytelling.”
If you actually look at Avatar clearly, thinking seriously about the storytelling, it is as complex as any film Charlie Kaufman has ever written. What it is not – and I think that this could be be and should be seriously considered by writers who chose to think about film seriously – is particularly oblique, as many of the films that “serious” critics choose to love are. But what’s funny about that is that if you really start to think about what’s been set up in Avatar, nature perhaps being hard-wired in a literal way, Cameron is throwing out as big an idea as any studio film has offered in years.
Avatar is a genre movie. Absolutely. And when it isn’t thrilling the audience, it is usually reaching for emotion, not intellect. But it is also a master class in story structure. The weakest parts of the first act – all the Basil Exposition moments – are all paid off in a big way in the third act.
I defy any of the bashers to come up with a major element of the movie that doesn’t actually make sense in the context of the movie. I’m sure there are a few minor ones… there always seem to be a few, even in the most highly regarded films. But this is not Charlie’s Angels: Full Frontal or Bad Boys II or even Transformers, #1 or #2, randomly inserting action sequences that never quite fit the context of what minor story that is being offered.
What Avatar is not is as dark and mysterious as The Dark Knight. There is no evil character as strong as The Joker. Our hero and heroine are not as brooding and focused as The Batman. And the moral questions of Avatar are not as clearly stated or as yes/no as The Dark Knight. But all that said, the story structure of the movie is more successful than TDK at delivering on what it promises.
Everyone and anyone should be welcome to prefer one kind of discussion of ideas at the movies over another. I am in no way suggesting that Bartyzel or anyone else needs to bow to Avatar, either for commercial or aesthetic reasons. (And the “we are the rebels under attack by big bad money” shtick from the bashers is unrelenting.) But attack what you really don’t like. Please don’t feel compelled to so grossly overreach as to attack a complex and working structure – the columns holding the visuals up – in order to try to bring down the whole thing.
Avatar delivers more, I would argue, than people realize, not because the storytelling is weak, but because audiences – however smart – have a hard time seeing the story for the digital trees.
Let’s just take a part of the third act of the film.
At the start of the act, the humans who have taken the side of the Na’Vi against industry, the military, and indeed, even humans in general, move forward without discussion and without a plan. They have changed sides 100% and behave as a native would instinctively. They need to get out of the enemy’s stronghold and to get back to what is now their home.
What makes this interesting and complex is that just one scene before, this group was still working with the other humans to try to mediate. Without dialogue explaining this, the audience understands what’s happened. And the first thing this band of New Na’Vis does when free, also without explanation, is to take – as best they can – control of their avatars into their own hands and away from the belligerent humans.
Once they make this transition, Cameron flips the entire movie. Jakesully finds a way to become a leader again and brings the military insight that if united, the indigenous population could fight off the intruders. (Ironically, to my argument, the existence of other tribes isn’t introduced until this scene… one loose thread.) Suddenly, the Sky People are on the defensive… suddenly they are rationalizing not that they have a mission and hate those in their way, but that if they don’t attack first, they will be destroyed by those “blue monkeys,” who are organizing only because the Sky People trying to annihilate them.
Cameron then flips the movie again, introducing the concept of a nuclear weapon, with the threat to bomb out the second most important place for the Na’Vi (the white tree).
And Cameron flips the movie one more time with the arrival of nature to defend itself.
This represents four major power shifts in the third act alone. None of it is casual, random, or even confusing. It is clear to the audience without being spelled out. They feel it. And that is a real achievement in story telling.
Again… I am not saying that the film is flawless. I am not saying that box office gross = quality or social importance or anything else. All I am saying is that the movie is hitting people in a real way and to try to take that away by claiming, without a real argument, that it’s “just visuals” is irresponsible and dumb.
Those of us who write fot public consumption about movies always have a choice. We can try to figure out what is going on with audiences when they latch onto a particular film. Or we can judge them as we judge the movie and try to argue why those stupid people have been suckered into thinking they are enjoying themselves. I guess there is a third choice… bowing to whatever is commercial… quote whoring on whatever level. And I often think the “I’m so much smarter than them” arguments are a response to those quote whore types… and completely forget that real people find real enjoyment in these films and there may be a reason that we have not yet considered.
I have no idea how anyone can stand the Twilight movies or the Sex & The City movie… but they don’t only pay to see these films… they LOVE them. I got it a little more on Mamma Mia!. And I still feel fine about saying these films SUCK without having to demean those who love them. Yes, me saying it will anger and/or embarrass some who love them. But that’s just the gig.
What is NOT the gig is arguing that Twilight is the end of cinematography or that Sex & The City was the end of feminism or that Mamma Mia! is the end of singing by male leads or, for that matter, Meryl Streep acting without mugging.
Heck… if you aren’t intellectually curious, that’s okay too. Maybe that’s your niche! If it is, please disregard all I just wrote. So sorry to get in the way of your malevolent fun.6
I finally got to Avatar in 2D yesterday, curious to have a personal perspective on what a significant percentage of people across the globe are seeing, as well as what the non-3D DVD might look like when it comes down the pike.
The answer is, not unexpectedly… it was fine.
The big difference for me was that the Na’Vi skin is even more real looking in 2D. There is more texture, as the focus seems sharper in close-ups.
What is still mind-blowing, after seeing the film in 4 different formats, is the undeniability of the world that WETA and Cameron created on computers. The next big step that this film takes in facial capture is a huge deal. But for me, it is when you step away from the storytelling and animal/humanoid characters for a moment and look at the landscapes. They feel absolutely real.. so much so that I doubt many people think about them much. On the second group of Star Wars films, the landscapes were mostly architecture. It was often beautiful, but it seems to me, a lot easier. But no one in the audience doesn’t know what a leaf really looks like… or a tree… or a sunset… or a puddle being splashed through.
I would still advise people that Real-D 3D is the most complete version of the Avatar experience. But the film is so visually dense that, really, there are benefits to seeing it in 2D. There is a limit to how much we can process and how fast. With less for your brain to do while watching, it seems to me that, in an odd way, breathing in Avatar is easier.
Chances To Make History
It has been a long, odd Oscar race already this year. The first major change was the new 10 Nominees rule, the first time since 65 years ago that we will have so many nominees for Best Picture.
There are other opportunities to make history for Academy members, all just a vote away. As I thought about what new history would look like, I came upon a number of things that would be unique, but would not be truly historic.
But there are four areas in which it seems that Oscar can make history this year.
No new charts this week.
The image, oddly, doesn’t much connect with what Up In the Air is. Still, promo is promo and the film, trying to hold off the Avatar onslaught, adds one more feather to its cap.
I was also sent the story inside the magazine, but as I was about to post it, I realized that I was stealing from EW… and that would be wrong. I’m sure it will be online before you know it. They are all charming and talk about their body doubles and lactation. George even admits, though Stan Rosenfeld gets pissed off when the press suggests it is the case, that he is intentionally NOT doing interviews (the foundation of feature stories) for this film. He does not hide behind his movie that was shooting overseas. Good for him.
I will share this one tidbit, that I loved…
Mr. Clooney is clearly more self-aware than EW’s editors or journalists.
Pop-up a larger version of the cover.
There are only two films in box office history that have shown anything quite like Avatar’s second weekday block so far- The Chronicles of Narnia and Titanic.
Obviously, the traditional limits on December openings have something to do with this. But still…
Narnia started off with a $65 million, but was a bit soft, relative to that opening, on the weekdays. The movie accelerated a little on its second set of weekdays – from $3.6m to $5.7m on Thursday 1 to 2 being the biggest leap – and faster again in its third weekday set, nearly doubling M-Wed numbers. The big number, however, was still $11.9m on Dec 26.
Titanic opened on Dec 19, the same relative Friday as Avatar. A $28.6m weekend led to a decent week. The second weekday set was up about 35% a day, though there was a massive jump from Christmas Eve, a down day every year, and New Year’s Eve, a very strong box office day. That New Year’s Eve high was $11.6m.
Last Tuesday, Avatar had the #3 Tuesday of all time with $16.1m, behind only The Dark Knight and opening day for Transformers. Yesterday, the number went UP – which has literally happened only 3 other times on a Tuesday in history with a gross over $8m – to $18.3 million… becoming the new #3 Tuesday of all-time.
This pushed Avatar to $250.4m in 12 days… #6 fastest all-time… and #1 non-sequel all-time.
Based on this, you’re probably looking at about $18m tomorrow and about $22m on New Year’s Eve Thursday… and about $20m on Friday, Day 15. That would make Avatar the #3 fastest grosser of all time, ahead of only TDK and Trannys 2. And there is a good shot at hitting $350m by the end of business Sunday… Day 17… pushing it to #2 behind TDK only. If for some reason it doesn’t hit $350m on Sunday, it would still be #2 all-time fastest if it hit $350 any time in the 5 days next week.
Oh yeah… there is a very real chance that the film will break $1 billion worldwide before it’s fourth weekend starts. If not, it seems pretty sure to happen in that fourth weekend.
The fastest movie to $1 billion worldwide to date is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which did it in nine weeks.
This started as an entry only about the second story, below. But on a whim, I clicked on BO Mojo for Monday’s Avatar number, aka Torture For Some Of You.
Second Monday – $19.4m estimate
It’s the #7 Monday of all-time. It’s up from last Monday by 19%, which as you may recall, was a pretty amazing day as well, which we attributed to last weekend’s weather.
The only second Monday that is better is Shrek 2, which was on its way to being the #2 domestic grosser of all time (now #3, behind The Dark Knight as well as Titanic.) Oh yes… and that Monday was Memorial Day.
In fact, the only non-holiday Monday bigger was The Dark Knight‘s fourth day of release. Avatar, which is still $93 million behind TDK’s domestic 11-day gross, did $8.9m more than TDK on their respective Day 11s. Catching up a bit.
Avatar was the 10th fastest film in history to $200 million. If it hits $250m tomorrow or Wednesday, it will be the sixth fastest to $250m. It looks to move up to being fourth fastest grossing film in history by the tine it hits $300m domestic this weekend. It should be #2 all-time by the time it hist $400m.
Still. I’m not sure at all that Avatar will outgross The Dark Knight‘s $533 million domestic. But it will pass TDK’s $470m international number before the New Year’s weekend is over.
Sorry for the torture for those of you who hate this. I do understand that I was not this aggressive about reporting the daily Dark Knight numbers. I probably should have been. But as the above notes, the numbers weren’t that interesting after the first 10 days. Amazingly, Avatar is still growing.
It took a week for Robert J. Elisberg to take a swing at Pete Hammond and Steve Pond over glowing reports about the Avatar screening at The Academy.
Firstly… trying to use Academy screenings to measure how movies are doing with The Academy is a bad, bad idea. Always has been. Always will be. For one thing, there are always a parade of varying interpretations of what happened. I don’t think there has been a movie that’s won Best Picture in recent years that was not said by some to have had a modest to poor response at the Academy screening… as well as someone saying that it was gangbusters.
The only reliable measurement to get from an Academy screening is how many people showed up. This tells you, very quickly, how much work the distributor in question has to do to get other 4500+ voting Academy members to see the movie.
By that measure, Fox had a great screening. And the film’s huge success should get them to something like 50% – 60% of Academy membership seeing the movie in theaters before the next couple of weeks are over. Fox, no doubt, will work hard to get the rest into screenings in the weeks thereafter.
It is one of the mistakes I think Oscar prognosticators make… spending too much time trying to read the group. Sometimes, the answer is bigger than the group. Avatar is one of those movies.
You know when it was clear that Avatar was the movie to beat for Best Picture? Well… the opportunity for it to change the game was there before it screened. It’s a soft year. But then, there was the night of that first look… December 10. (Here is the column I wrote the next day.)
(So ends the self-serving section of this entry.)
In any case, Elisberg seems kinda angry that Pete & Steve heard things went well at that screening. Could it be that he doesn’t much care for the movie?
“I was at that screening. In fact, I was first in line.”
Creepy. An hour early at The Academy. But more important, if Elisberg was first in then he wasn’t there when Academy members were actually turned away… a very rare occurrence. Elisberg acknowledges that the theater was full by showtime, but tries various ways of suggesting that this wasn’t special or at all meaningful. He even uses the capacity audience for Up… which looks to be the second animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in Oscar history… as a negative for Avatar.
“More importantly, from the few people I and friends spoke to afterward, the reaction was absolutely mixed.
Everyone was awed by the otherworldly-spectacular special effects. But for some, the script was a bit ordinary and ultimately somewhat disappointing. Others, though, while acknowledging the script weaknesses, overlooked them and adored the film.”
Well. That’s it then. Mr. Elisberg’s circle of friends and their snap decision defines the film’s Oscar potential. Much better read than Pete or Steve. (that’s sarcasm.)
As I say, I am not in disagreement with Elisberg that the Academy screening is a bad way to read the Oscar future of a film… as is Pete’s “film class” where he screens awards hopefuls. But Pete does get, in a general way, some very interesting reads off of his class and the many, many Q&As he does. In the weeks before nomination, Pete is usually the person most likely to smell a change in the voting class before it happens. This doesn’t mean his guesses are always right. But his thermometer is placed in a good place, particularly late in the nomination season.
I guess what strikes me about Elisberg’s attack is that he is so definitive about his perspective being right when the takes from Pete & Steve, while perhaps a bit hyperbolic, are more in line with stories I have heard from Academy members who were at that screening than Elisberg’s… including from at some who were turned away.
I don’t actually object to Elisberg adding his perspective to this minor event. But perhaps it could be his experience and not mean that Pete & Steve must be shills to repeat what they heard.
In the end, the likelihood that Avatar will win Best Picture is all about it being seen as a game-changer, a successful entertainment for the world, and a massive commercial hit. That and the lack of an alternative that is nearly as muscular.
I don’t really have anything much to write at the moment… but i got sick of looking at the NYT thing at the top of the page…
A Micheal Cieply piece comes up… “Ready for 2010, Some Films Shot Way Back When.”
The picture is of Shutter Island. That and The Green Zone are the highest profile holdovers. But Universal didn’t go on the record… even though they had some interesting things to explain. For instance, stars like Matt Damon usually oblige studios to keep a distance between their releases. In this case, Invictus won the Fall 2009 battle, so Green Zone arrives in 2010. (There was also talk that Paul Greengrass was not done fixing the movie in time for a 2009 release.) The Wolfman, on the other hand, had reshoots pretty late in 2009. Sometimes, the only sane choice is to slow the train, reconsider the marketing, and move forward when you are ready.
In the case of Shutter Island, Paramount cleared out their entire fall for reasons of strategy or cash flow, depending on who is telling the story. That’s their prerogative. And that’s a story.
But what got my attention was this comment: “At least 16 of the 28 films set for release by Hollywood
I hate market share stories.
Market Share in 2009 is one of the least valuable statistics on the planet.
Warner Bros, which leads in market share at this year end and which has had a record-breaking $2 billion domestic year, released 30% more films than the studio with the next highest number of releases. And $300 million of that domestic total is for movies the studio doesn
In another entry
JOHNNY DEPP and JUDE LAW EXPLAIN WORKING ON TERRY GILLIAM’S “THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS”
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS RELEASED THE FILM IN NY/LA ON DECEMBER25th
EXPANDING ON JANUARY 8th
Johnny Depp and Jude Law have released the following statements regarding their involvement with Terry Gilliam’s latest film, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS.
“Maestro Gilliam has made a sublime film. Wonderfully enchanting and beautiful, ‘The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus’ is a uniquely ingenious, captivating creation; by turns wild, thrilling and hilarious in all its crazed, dilapidated majesty. Pure Gilliam magic!!!
It was an honor to represent Heath. He was the only player out there breathing heavy down the back of every established actors neck with a thundering and ungovernable talent that came up on you quick, hissing rather mischievously with that cheeky grin, “hey… get on out of my way boys, i’m coming through…” and does he ever!!! Heath is a marvel, Christopher Plummer beyond anything he’s ever done, Waits as the Devil is a God, Lily Cole and Andrew Garfield, the very foundation, are spectacular, Verne Troyer simply kicks ass and as for my other cohorts, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, they most certainly did Master Ledger very proud, I salute them.
Though the circumstances of my involvement are extremely heart-rending and unbelievably sad, I feel privileged to have been asked aboard to stand in on behalf of dear Heath.”
“I have always loved Terry Gilliam’s films. Their heart, their soul, their mind, always inventive, touching, funny and relevant. When I got the call, it was a double tug. I liked Heath very much as a man and admired him as an actor. To help finish his final piece of work was a tribute I felt compelled to make. To help Terry finish his film was an honour paid to a man I adore. I had a great time on the job. Though we were all there in remembrance, Heath’s heart pushed us with great lightness to the finish.”
To start, Klady’s Avatar estimate is $1.3m off what the studio is touting and $2.8m lower than WB on Sherlock Holmes. Okay. We’ll see where it goes in the finals.
What’s really remarkable about the weekend’s record box office is that you have to go all the way down to #8 on the “biggest weekend ever” list to find a #2 film as big as Sherlock Holmes or a #1 as small as Avatar. On top of that, you have a $49.9m estimate on A&TC: The Squeakquel, which is another Christmas record breaker and the #7 December opening of all time. This was, unusually, a success of an array of titles, not one mega-number driving the weekend to a record.
Klady’s estimate has Avatar $1.5 million behind The Dark Knight‘s #1 Second Weekend gross off all time. And it’s just ahead of Shrek 2, which in its second weekend was the box office leader of the aforementioned #8 Best Weekend ever, followed by newcomer The Day After Tomorrow, which opened about $6 million bigger than Holmes. (Note again: December openings are different. By estimate, Sherlock’s launch is the #5 Dec open of all time and the #1 Christmas opening by a margin of almost 30 million bucks. No small success.)
The huge difference between this weekend and that Shrek 2/Day After Tomorrow weekend is that #3 movie. For that 2004 weekend, #3 was Troy’s 3rd weekend with a $12m take. Even this weekend’s #4 movie, It’s Complicated, doubled that.
The riches of this weekend are myriad. As noted above, this is the biggest 1-5 punch ever. Avatar, Sherlock, and Munks2 are now the #2, #5, and #7 openings in December history. The previous best, by the measure, was #1, #10, and #11 in 2007.
There is some down side…
2.5x the Friday start of Sherlock Holmes has to be a little disappointing, in light of a great number overall for the film. Does it mean anything in terms of word of mouth? Probably not. It was, I think, the intense must-see that made the opening day number bigger than proportional to the other 2 days, not a decreasing audience over a 3-day.
The “awards movies” were not sensational. $11.5m for Up In The Air on 1895 screens is okay, but no world beater. (it is, however, almost as much as the entire gross of The Hurt Locker.) Nine, on 1412 screens, is close to a wipeout with $5.4m. Invictus is looking like a $35m – $40m total domestic grosser. And Precious is now in the under-$1m a week category, looking like it will settle in at about $45m domestic. And in smaller openings, Crazy Heart did $13,170 per on 12, which is nothing special. Nor is A Single Man‘s $7130 per on 46.
Of course, Avatar is now looking like the awards movie to beat. It had the #26 domestic opening of all-time. It was the #26 Day Four grosser as well. Day Five, #23. Day Six, #22. Day Seven, #21. Day Eight, #16. Day Nine, #11. Day Ten, by estimate, #9. Who knows where it will be by this time next week?
I know some of you don’t care. “It’s just nature,” you say. “Why be upset when we all know she is a con artist?,” you say.
I guess I care because some people are still too stupid to realize they are being lied to. And it pisses me off.
This morning, it’s “As usual, the Hollywood box office experts (who had predicted this to me) were right on the money.”
They were wrong on Friday and wrong on Saturday. She printed it. Three different times. So when exactly did they get anything right? And why would being completely ignorant about box office and then simply disappearing the many incorrect pieces of information you were selling just hours before draw anything less than disdain?
And then, she is so brazen that she not only misleads readers with obvious intent, but she actually gets aggressive about claiming that the bad information never existed and in fact, the providers of that bad intel are always right.
This is why NIkki exists. She has zero shame. And everyone who does is in this “but if I mention it, it gives her more importance” echo chamber. And the greatest irony of all is that Nikki uses the “truth to power” lie about herself relentlessly while other are afraid to be truthful about her. This is how monsters are made.
No doubt, part of the irritation is that Drudge has decided to anoint Finke by link, driving most of her traffic by linking to her horrible, normally premature box office coverage. But mostly, I just don’t like liars. And I hate liars who scream about being truthful and correct most of all.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me multiple times every week, shame on me.
I made a point of going out to the new Village Roadshow Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena after I got a request from the CBC to discuss what the idea of a new kind of theatrical experience might mean to the industry.
The interview will be on Tuesday and we’ll discuss whatever they want to discuss… but first…
Wow… was that an expensive disappointment!
The theater in Pasedena used to be an AMC that I occasionally frequented. I seem to remember seeing American Pie there the first time. In any case, what Gold Class has done is, as far as I can tell, is to take the 6 theaters that were there, empty the seats, and restructure the floor, so there are between 3 and 6 levels in the room. Then, they installed pairs of seats, extra wide recliners, with outside armrests that double as a place to put your stuff and a tray table permanently affixed between the seats. Our theater was 3 of these double-seats across and 4 back, seating 24. The larger house seemed to be 4 across and 6 back (total seating, 48).
Screen size is mid-range multiplex. Sound seemed fine… nothing special.
The central area, where you would usually find the snack stand, bathrooms, and a place to hang out, has been transformed into a trendy-looking club with liquor and food service.
I guess I will just tell you the story of what happened…