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Movies Have To Be Seen in a Movie Theater, Because Something Something Nostalgia Something Something

Owen Glieberman, pondering in Variety, avoiding the point like it carries Bubonic Plague.

And that’s why, more than not, I’m with Steven Spielberg on his likely proposed change to the Academy guidelines. He is not dissing what Netflix does. He is trying to isolate and hang onto the DNA of cinema — to preserve an essential definition of what movies are, as distinct from what we watch on television. The notion of an extended theatrical window, or something comparable to it, would be the updated version of the old requirement that a movie had to fulfill to be nominated for Oscars: the one-week qualifying run. That was before streaming, but it’s only natural that just as technology changes habits, it changes protocol and it changes rules. It’s the one-week qualifying run that’s become a relic, a trivial hoop that Netflix (or anyone else) can jump through.

But…

Why, though?

Consider film as a form of art. Consider the things that make a film a film. Ask yourself why a film ceases to be a film based on the location of it’s viewing audience. What is so essential about the public movie theater?

If I’m watching Citizen Kane in a theater, I am watching a movie. If I’m watching Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray in my house, I am still watching a movie. If I’m watching it on my tablet streaming from Amazon Prime, I am still watching a movie.

Are we prepared to argue that the only reason I can say “I am watching a movie” is the fact that, thirty-five years before I was born, it was shown in the only venue that was available to the viewing public at the time?

That’s absurd. A requirement that movies be shown in theaters is absurd. It’s not just that theaters are unnecessary; they’re actually sub-optimal. The expense and aggravation of seeing a movie in a theater is no longer worth the minor technical quality of the viewing experience, in an era when wide-screen TV’s and home audio technology is within most people’s grasp. There is no downside to watching Mad Max: Fury Road in my basement, with my own snacks.

The communal experience, you say? If I really want that, I can invite people to my basement. Movie Theaters have nothing to offer but nostalgia, a habit of thinking “this is what a movie is”.

A long-form cinema narrative can be shown on any device. This rear-guard action will not hold.

Look Upon My Predictions, Ye Pundits, and Despair: My Oscars 2019 Scorecard

People really seem to like Queen. I mean, I can dig one or two Queen songs, but…

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I don’t get it. That’s okay, though.

Let’s proceed to the actual scorecard. I’m counting it a win if either my Probable or Sleeper Predictions won. Does that give me an unfair double-shot of being right, and smug about it? Yes. It also gives me two chances to be wrong. So I think it’s fair. This is my scorecard. Go do your own predictions.

Best Picture:

What I Predicted:  The Favourite, with Black Panter as a Sleeper.

What Won: Green Book. Race stuff still trumps gender stuff.

Best Director:

What I Predicted: Spike Lee collecting Dues, with Yorgos Lanthimos as a Sleeper

Who Won: Alfonso Cuaron, for Roma. Foreign Language films are becoming safer than I realized.

Best Actress:

What I Predicted: Yalitza Aparicio, with Olivia Colman as a Sleeper

Who Won: Olivia Colman

Best Actor:

What I Predicted: Rami Malek, with Christian Bale as a Sleeper

Who Won: Rami Malek.

Best Supporting Actress:

What I PredictedRachel Weisz, with Regina King as a Sleeper

Who Won: Regina King

Best Supporting Actor:

What I Predicted: Mahershala Ali, with Richard E. Grant as a Sleeper

Who Won: Mahershala Ali

Best Animated Feature:

What I Predicted: Mirai, with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as a Sleeper

What Won: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. More important than this, however is my prediction, almost a year-old now, that Wes Anderson will not win an Oscar. The Academy does not love you, Wes. It never will. Your stuff is too cute for them.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

What I Predicted: If Beale Street Could Talk, with A Star is Born as a Sleeper

What Won: BlacKKlansman. They gave Spike Lee his Lifetime Achievement/Paid Your Dues award with a Screenplay Oscar? That’s cold. But it did give us our Political Grandstanding of the night, so that’s something.

Best Original Screenplay:

What I Predicted: Vice, with Greek Book as a Sleeper

What Won: Green Book. I really did not expect them to shut Vice out, but they did.

The Technical/Craft/Unimportant Awards did not provoke strong predictions from me, so I’ll just list my shots and whether they were right.

Cinematography: The Favourite Roma

Documentary Feature: RBG Free Solo

Documentary ShortPeriod. End of Sentence.

Live Action ShortDetainment Skin

Foreign Language FilmRoma

Film EditingBlacKkKlansman Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound EditingA Quiet Place Bohemian Rhapsody

Sound Mixing : Bohemian Rhapsody

Production DesignBlack Panther

Original ScoreMary Poppins Returns Black Panther

Original Song: “All the Stars” “Shallow”

Makeup and HairVice

Costume DesignThe Favourite Black Panther

Visual EffectsFirst Man

Scorecard:

Correct predictions – 12

Incorrect predictions – 12

Conclusion: I am awesome at calling shots of an awards show I care nothing about, celebrating a collection of films I hardly saw any of.

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In Fact, The Hunt for Red October is Awesome.

I am largely unfamiliar with The Toast, but it seems to have a Buzzfeedy kind of feel, except it has articles instead of gifs. But I haven’t hit upon any obnoxious political content, so it can’t be Huffington Post. I started with one kind of article, and then I found Movie Yelling with Nicole and Mallory: The Hunt for Red October.

And it’s definitely watching two girls be very silly and hyperbolic about a movie. But it’s a great movie, and they’re right on a few key points:

  1. Alec Baldwin is, in fact, the greatest Jack Ryan that has ever been. I’m not a tremendous Alec Baldwin fan, either. In fact, I can’t even think of another movie I’ve seen him in that I would watch a second time (wait, he was in Beetlejuice, wasn’t he? I always forget that). But he nailed this one. The Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies are kind of plodding by comparison [In fact, If I’m being honest, I don’t much like Harrison Ford outside of his particularly narrow Han Solo/Indiana Jones oevre. He’s got too much anti-hero, too much fuck-this-shit-in-particular in him, to really be an earnest heroic type, yet for some reason he kept trying to be that, and it sucks. The only real exception to this is Witnesswhen he plays a cop charmed by the Amish, and even then he gets romantic with an Amish woman. Because of course he was. And before anyone mentions The Fugitive, that movie is entertaining because of Tommy Lee Jones and his gang of misfit cops, and for no other reason.]
  2. The cast in this movie is pretty damn good. All actors you’ve seen in other things, and none of them are embarrassing or off-putting. Tim Curry is completely believable as this great big true-believing Soviet dupe, but then Tim Curry is believable as pretty much everything he ever did. Dude had range. I rather enjoy Scott Glenn myself. The “Hey, I think someone fired a torpedo at us!”-“No shit, Buckwheat, get the fuck outta here!” exchange gets me every time. Also, he’s pretty badass with the whole “hardest part of playing chicken is knowing when to flinch” business. Which brings me to…
  3. Endlessly. Quotable.

    “And the singing, Captain?”
    “Let them Sing.”

    “I would have liked to have seen Montana”

    “When I was 12 years old, I helped my daddy build a bomb shelter in the backyard because some idiot parked a dozen warheads 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This thing could park a couple of hundred warheads off the coast of New York or Washington and no one would know anything about it until it was all over.”

    “That kid spent six months in traction, and another year learning to walk again. Did his fourth year from a hospital bed. Now it’s up to you, Charlie, but I might consider cuttin’ the kid a little slack.”

    “They’re pinging away with their active sonar, but they’re running at almost 30 knots. At that speed, they could run over my daughter’s stereo and not hear it.”

    “Then tell it right. Pavarotti was a tenor, Paganini was a composer.”

    “A Russian don’t take a dump without a plan.”

    “Oh yes it was. The man was patronizing you, and you stomped on him. In my opinion, he deserved it.”

    “Remember, chief. That torpedo did not self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull. And I…[shows identification]…was never here.”

    “Yuri… You’ve lost another submarine?”

    “Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo.”

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  4. It’s perhaps the last great Sean Connery performance. He did stuff in the 90’s, but it was mostly big-budget schlock like The Rock. This had a taciturn passion to it, a real dramatic arc and gravitas. And If I wanna get meta for a second, I feel like getting a Scot to play a Lithuanian has an odd kind of logic to it. He is both utterly ensconsed in and utterly removed from the empire he serves, making him deeply dangerous to friend and foe alike. Which brings me to…
  5. No film gets the Cold War better than this one. Yeah, all you Dr. Strangelove fanboys, I said it. Come at me. Strangelove is a satire, and rather a low one. It has nothing to say beyond “Nucular weapons are Teh Dumbz LOL”. The joke is that these generals and statesman are tap-dancing around the End the World button, and woops! they step on it. Red October does the military and political leaders of both the USA and the USSR the courtesy of treating them like grownups, like men keenly aware that a false move means the end of the world, and trying to prevent that by any means necessary except giving the enemy an advantage. The paranoia, the sorrow at the labyrinthine nature of the conflict juxtaposed with the pride in playing it so well, the mutual fear and fascination with which Russians and Americans regarded each other for almost the entire second half of the last century, it’s all deftly woven into this potboiler action movie with nuclear submarines.

But that’s my point of view. It’s nice to see the younger generation appreciating it, too.

Economist Crunches Numbers, Makes Box Office Condemn “The Last Jedi”

This post by Captain Capitalism falls under the category of Interesting, With Caveat.

In essence, he calculates Box Office As a Percentage of GDP, to evaluate the relative success of the Star Wars Movies in 1977 vs. today.

Naturally, A New Hope tops the list, bringing in .035% of the US GDP.

Solo does the worst, at .0019% GDP.

The blogger/economist thus observes that “Kathleen Kennedy wiped out 95% of the Star Wars franchise value”.  He then twerks the numbers a bit more, and gives us a more conservative, mere 75%.

Which, as I said, is interesting, and certainly grist for the mill of those who want to make Kathleen Kennedy the Palpatine of Lucasfilm.

But.

We cannot know, at this point, if Solo was an outlier or not. The narrative – that fans boycotted Solo in protest of The Last Jedi, is commonplace, and indeed was argued on this very blog. But we can’t call it a trend yet. Solo had things wearing it down in addition to the reaction to Last Jedi, such as the fact that no one wanted it in the first place. If Episode IX returns to the mean, then that means: a) Solo tanking had nothing to do with any boycott, b) said boycott has run its course, or c) the fan base is gaining new members to replace the old ones. And any of those will mean that the conclusion – that Kathleen Kennedy destroyed Star Wars – will be inoperative.

Also, the data suggests that, Solo notwithstanding, The Disney films are doing about as well as the Prequels. Force Awakens more or less ties Phantom Menace at .011% GDP, while Rogue One and The Last Jedi do about the same as Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Now, it is absolutely damning with faint praise to defend the Disney SW films by saying “they’re doing as well as the Prequels”. But if that’s true, then as I’ve been saying, the real damage was done to the franchise 20 years ago, and Kathleen Kennedy is merely the golem operating under George Lucas’ ghostly hand.

If Episode IX does fail, then Kennedy will certain deserve opprobrium for taking a profitable if damaged franchise and driving a stake through its heart. But if it doesn’t, then we must all revise our narratives.

 

Variety Buries the Lede About Disney’s Film Division

 

Walt Disney Studios had a much more magical earnings report than analysts had expected. The entertainment powerhouse behind Pixar, Marvel, and the world’s most trafficked theme parks logged earnings per share of $1.84, a 3% drop from $1.89 in the prior-year quarter. Disney also reported revenue of $15.3 billion, essentially flat with the year-ago period.…

The article is called No Star Wars, No Problem, and it’s true that Disney had a good quarter. But why?

The better-than-anticipated financial picture is attributable to higher broadcast revenues and the increased popularity of its parks, bright spots that off-set declines in Disney’s film division. The company faced difficult comparisons because it did not field any “Star Wars” sequel or spinoff during the holidays for the first time in four years. The lack of a “Star Wars” film also took a bite out of licensing profits.

Doesn’t that seem to suggest the opposite of the headline? The fact that other divisions of the company are covering for a loss does not mean that the loss is not there. How bad is the loss?

Disney’s film unit released the hits “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet” during the final three months of 2018, as well as the box office bomb “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Film revenues for the quarter decreased 27% to $1.8 billion and segment operating income decreased 63% to $309 million.

That seems bad. And note something here. Of the three films released, two were sequels to existing properties (one a sequel to a film fifty years old). Those were the hits. The bomb was a re-imagining of “The Nutcracker” that no one wanted and was critically panned.

You know what didn’t get released?

Anything new.

Now for a year of live-action remakes of earlier films, more sequels, and comic book movies?

The Renaissance is over.

And Now For Some Mindlessly Speculative Guff About Star Wars Episode 9

Get obsessed over product, swine!

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Actually, this article at Digital Spy  hews very close to verifiable fact, and leaves the theoretical where it belongs.

A few pertinent facts:

  • Mark Hamill will be back.
  • Previously shot footage of Carrie Fisher will be used, rather than CGI.
  • We’ll also see Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian
  • Most of the cast of The Last Jedi will be back, including Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, and Laura Dern.

These are interesting, but by no means surprising, nor as relevatory as we might want. Back in May, I made some predictions about Episode IX, one of which has been basically confirmed (the return of Hamill/Luke), and one of which has been made more likely (The Finn/Rose or “Frose” romance, as both are predictably back), and one of which has become rather unlikely (The Kylo/Rey or “Reylo” Romance, as Disney is adamant that the Skywalker Saga is ending here).

But these things are not known. Luke fading into the Force at the end of Last Jedi probably means his return will be as a blue-outlined ghost a la Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda, but Abrams might hard-cut away from Rian Johnson and slap together some internal logic of Force Rebirth that would give us real, actual Luke. Do I think that will happen? No. Do I discount it? Also no.

Same with Frose. Maybe they have these characters in LUV, or maybe Rose gets killed in the first act, and Finn is Sad about it. Or maybe both.

As for the End of Skywalker, let me shove my glasses back up my nose and point out that a child of Kylo Ren would not be surnamed Skywalker, but Solo. And Disney ain’t said nothing about that. Just sayin’…

But again, these are all useless, deeply hedged, speculations. Until we see a trailer, we have no idea what will happen, and we really won’t then, either. So keep your lightsaber crystals dry.

The End of House of Cards: Sound and Fury Signifies Nothing

p15818372_b_v8_aaWell, not nothing. There’s something to the final image in the final episode (I’m not going to spoil it. Watch and you’ll understand me). But it comes across as incredibly anti-climactic, given the sturm und drang it tries to build. I watched it last night, and my initial response was “non-ending”. Which, on further reflection, it isn’t exactly. I suppose the real meaning of the ending is that we’re right back at the beginning and nothing really has changed.

The mammoth task of ending House of Cards without its main character would probably have defied any creative team. But there was another problem: the character they had, by default, to replace him with was an enigma for six seasons, and the new season did nothing to illuminate her.

Who is Claire Underwood/Hale? What does she want?

One did not have to ask these questions about Francis Underwood. He was a politician;  he wanted power. He was Richard III re-imagined as an American Congressman, complete with scene-chewing asides and soliloquys thrust like a dagger through the Fourth Wall. The point of this was to take the audience on a journey into the dark heart of the City of Washington, to show us how the sausage is made via one man’s struggle to be the Greatest of Butchers.

And yes, the exercise wearied after a while, became a parade of improbables and extra-constitutional fancies, with freshly-minted secondary characters acting without clear motivation (Who the hell is Mark Bishop? Who the hell is Jane? What are they doing? Why?). Like Richard III, Frank Underwood loses his control of events when he wears the crown, and that got dull to watch.

But Claire is an enigma wrapped in a duality and seasoned with progressive bromides. Am I really supposed to believe that the woman who made the office manager of her charity foundation lay off half the staff, and then fired her, is a feminist? Am I supposed to buy that the woman who murdered her lover considers herself somehow better than Frank? Based on what?

The charm of the first season was that these two schemers were a team, they understood and complemented each other’s darkness, strengthened and enlightened it. Claire wasn’t, like Lady MacBeth, full of the wish to murder and empty of the capacity for it. She wasn’t Frank’s driver, she was his partner.

And then, for some reason, she wasn’t. At the moment of triumph, she pulls away from him. Sometimes it’s because she feels guilt, but only sometimes. Sometimes it’s because she feels like she wants her turn, but when Frank offers her exactly that, she becomes his enemy. Nothing she does makes any sense, except in the context of “I want it all, and I want it now.”

Which, I understand. Which even makes sense for the tone of the show. So why can’t she just come out and say it? Why does she have to pretend that she’s somehow better? Why can’t she wryly analyze the difference between her exoteric discourse, the performance for everyone else, and her esoteric doctrine, which she lets the audience see? In the end, it’s precisely when Claire broke the Fourth Wall that I found her least truthful. Unlike Francis, who showed us without shame the foulness within, Claire seems oddly insistent that I find her heroic. Sorry, lady, but the blood on your hands is the same as your husband’s. He was no hero, and neither are you.

There’s a lot of threads in this final season that go nowhere. The App business. Mark and Jane. The Shepherd’s family secrets. Eventually all these become nothing more than red herrings meant to drag our attention from the true conflict of the season, that of Claire vs. Stamper for control of Frank’s Legacy. Which has a logic to it: Frank as the Dead Prophet with a schism between a guided caliph (Stamper) and a blood caliph (Claire), to put an Islamic cast on it. I just wish I came away from the closing credits with a feeling of something other than “that’s it?”