May 2007 Archives

As expected, the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie dominated the Memorial Day box office, but $142 million was no match for the feisty limited-release Waitress in Culture Snob’s Box Office Power Rankings. Adrienne Shelly’s film used strong reviews and a blockbuster-worthy per-screen average to land atop this week’s ratings, even though it ranked fifth in overall box office.

Pirates of the Caribbean tied 28 Weeks Later for second place, with middling reviews sinking Jack Sparrow and company. To overtake Waitress, Pirates needed to score 67 at Rotten Tomatoes (instead of 47) and 63 at Metacritic (instead of 50).

Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third rounded out the top five.

Continue reading for the full rankings and the methodology.

Most of us know that box-office gross is a largely meaningless number, and many people think that critics are worthless. In an effort to try to better measure a movie’s overall performance, Culture Snob here offers the first of its weekly Box Office Power Rankings.

The rankings cover the 10 top-grossing movies in the United States for the previous weekend. We assign equal weight to box office and critical opinion, with each having two components. The measures are: box-office gross, per-screen average, Rotten Tomatoes score, and Metacritic score.

A Sense of Place

From 'Revenge of the Sith'(My new contribution to Edward Copeland’s Star Wars Blog-a-thon. I also offered old essays on George Lucas’ endless tinkering and Revenge of the Sith.)

Is it possible that the failure of the second Star Wars trilogy has nothing to do with plot, character, and storytelling and everything to do with physical space?

Fresh off Culture Snob’s own Misunderstood Blog-a-thon is Edward Copeland’s Star Wars Blog-a-thon on Friday, May 25 — the 30th anniversary of Episode IV’s release in the United States.

A couple of fascinating thematic blog-a-thons are also on the horizon: the Ambitious Failure Blog-a-thon (June 20-24) and the Bizarro Blog-a-thon (August 27-29).

For more upcoming blog-a-thons, check out Copeland’s list here or Squish’s list (and a history of blog-a-thons) here.

'Pan's Labyrinth': Head to head with the penisIn a previous entry, I noted the disconnect between Guillermo del Toro’s assertion that Pan’s Labyrinth is “not about sexual identity” and the movie’s marketing materials and design.

In this short audio commentary (part of Culture Snob’s Five Minutes series), we look at the toad scene in the movie to undercut the writer/director’s claim even more. Pan’s Labyrinth is very much about sexual identity, particularly a woman’s reproductive power over a man.

Five Minutes: JFK


'JFK': Don't trust what you can't seeWhen we say that a movie is more style than substance, we typically mean it derisively.

Oliver Stone’s JFK has a ton of stuff — with the director’s cut running nearly three and a half hours — that was mistaken for its substance. But the meat of the movie is its style, because it’s the fuel that made the film so combustible.

The movie was greeted with contentious debate upon its release in 1991, but Stone’s critics and supporters completely missed the boat by arguing about facts, theories, and cover-ups. JFK works not as an argument but as a style of argument — sly and forceful in equal measure — and an exemplar of contemporary propaganda.

Illegal Alien

E.T.: On the lam from the lawI suggested it, jokingly, when I announced the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon:

“Is E.T. really a sophisticated exploration of diaspora?”
But the more I think of it, the more it makes sense.

Truman Burbank: Into the wildThere’s a maxim that says a movie teaches you how to watch it, but Peter Weir’s The Truman Show teaches you how to watch it the wrong way. And in its brazen audience cues, it hints that you should question your reaction to the film. This is a movie that was made for misunderstanding.

Good Luck with That

Poor RupertSomebody entered the following search query and eventually found Culture Snob:

talent OR skill OR intelligence “rupert grint”

By the time the searcher found this page on Culture Snob, he or she was on the seventh page of search results. Apparently, it’s quite challenging to find talent or skill or intelligence in the kid who plays Ron Weasley.

Frogs!Why does nobody take the frogs seriously? Why does nobody question them?

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, the cataclysmic, apocalyptic rain of frogs seems casually accepted. Nobody says: “That’s some fucked-up shit, those frogs.”

And I guess it’s a testament to Anderson’s script, direction, tone, pacing, and heavy foreshadowing that I’ve never heard anybody say anything along the lines of: “You know, I was with it right up until the frogs.” I led a small-group discussion on the movie last year, and nobody had any problem with the amphibians, and nobody ascribed a grand meaning to them. As Stanley Spector says in the library, with wide eyes but no curiosity: “This happens. This is something that happens.”

(By Doug Nelson, for the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon.)

I did something I’ve never done before. I’ve been an avid (rabid?) movie fan since I was too young to remember. Even today it’s a rare day that I don’t watch at least two movies, more on weekends. But I have never, never (my inner drama queen insists I repeat this for emphasis) watched a movie and immediately turned around and watched it again from the beginning, all in one sitting.

(By Doug Nelson, for the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon.)

Edward Zwick is a more-than-competent director who has made some capable movies, and some that I physically detest. This is largely the fault of his love of the “ideal worth dying for,” which is central to most of his movies. I, on the other hand, feel few ideals are worth even discussing, let alone dying for. “Idealist” isn’t a snide put-down without reason.

It’s important to misunderstand movies.

Put another way: If we limit ourselves to straightforward readings of plot or themes in film, we’re denying ourselves the multifaceted nature of the medium. As the most inclusive of all the arts, cinema comprises narrative storytelling, photography, acting, sound, music, speech, movement, costume, montage, and architecture. Even the dumbest, most-crass summer blockbuster is a dense, nearly infinite trove of material to explore and analyze.

When we consider a movie “misunderstood,” we’re not latching on to plot points or obvious themes or even subtext. We’re grabbing at those oddball moments that don’t seem to fit: isolated images, tonal incongruities, digressions in dialogue, striking juxtapositions, narrative detours that seem to dead-end, camera angles.

We’re detecting latent patterns, and we’re crafting interpretations that never cross the minds of most people. We do this with the assumption that every scene, every sound, and every frame might matter. The joy of building a case for an unconventional reading is mining those peripheral moments or sights and finding meaning in them. We are watching closely.

That’s the premise of the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon, which I announced last month and which runs through Sunday, May 20.

Follow this link to Misunderstood Blog-a-thon Central, and check back for updates daily.

The Uses of Atrocity

Explosive but not incendiary: 'Children of Men'In an admiring but fundamentally dismissive review, Matt Zoller Seitz argues that Children of Men’s subject matter necessitates a treatment more rigorous and pointed.

The implication is that movies that recall real-world horrors have some responsibility to them, and I don’t necessarily buy that. A film shouldn’t trivialize suffering, but serious politics (and shameful history) shouldn’t be off-limits for entertainments.

Alfonso Cuarón’s film weaves serious themes into what’s fundamentally a lightweight work. The movie doesn’t lack a coherent vision; it simply has nothing insightful to say.

Plus: Casino Royale and Borat.

This final “half-season” of The Sopranos — only five episodes remain — reminds me of the movie version of Clue, in the sense that series creator David Chase has set up any number of possible endings, none any better than another. Each week brings new foreshadowing — a new suspect if you’re inclined to think that Tony’s going to bite it — but no real sense of a final destination.

To me, it feels like a narrative cheat. The best stories are those whose outcomes are both surprising and inevitable, whose authors from the start build toward a terminus without sacrificing suspense. At this point, Chase could pull any of a dozen equally fitting endings out of a hat.