July 2008 Archives

titanic.jpgAfter two weekends, the only question remaining about The Dark Knight’s box-office prowess is whether it will become the all-time domestic champion, toppling Titanic. It’s unlikely, but Christopher Nolan’s second Batman movie is a very good bet to unseat Star Wars from second place, as long as we don’t consider pesky factors such as inflation.

Titanic earned nearly $601 million in the U.S., while Star Wars has grossed $461 million. After 10 days, The Dark Knight stands at nearly $314 million.

That’s a big gap, but if Batman follows the lead of Iron Man, he’ll be north of $550 million — well ahead of George Lucas and within spittin’ distance of James Cameron. Iron Man has earned roughly 44 percent of its gross since its second weekend, after which it stood at $178 million.

And if The Dark Knight has anywhere close to the staying power of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet — who topped the box office for 15 consecutive weeks — Titanic might be sunk.

But Cameron shouldn’t sweat too much — yet. The Dark Knight lost a greater percentage of its business in weekend two (52 percent) than Iron Man at the same point in its release (48 percent).

(And while I can’t prove it, this was written before Variety came to the same conclusion.)

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Neat ... Oh.

bruges.jpgEarly in In Bruges, the hit man Ken (Brendan Gleeson) is counting out coins, and he ends up 10 cents short of the admission price for a historic attraction. He pleads with the cashier to let him in, but the man insists that it costs five euros to get in. Exasperated, Ken pulls out a 50-euro bill.

It’s a tantalizing bit of character color. But when that detail becomes important late in the movie, the life gets sucks out of it; it becomes a hollow contrivance instead of an ambiguous hint of a man.

That happens a lot in Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges.

Just how powerful a force is The Dark Knight?

Aside from winning this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, it’s breaking a ton of box-office records. But these sorts of milestones are often meaningless because of ticket-price inflation and a record-obsessed movie economy that floods the market with prints.

But looking at Box Office Mojo’s comparison of “all-time openers” is instructive. Yes, Christopher Nolan’s movie is in more theaters than the other four movies in the comparison. Yes, the earliest movie in the “showdown” (Spider-Man) came out in 2002, when movie tickets were cheaper. But the Batman is so thoroughly kicking their asses that it’s obvious these records are significant.

After one day in release, The Dark Knight had made $7 million more than its closest competitor (Spider-Man 3). After three days: still $7 million. Four days: $21 million. Five days: $31 million (now Revenge of the Sith). It would appear that the dude has some serious legs.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

To break away from The Dark Knight, here’s a Culture Snob essay that’s been distilled by Wordle:

wordle.jpg

I love many of these random groupings, but I’m particularly fond of the proximity of “audience” to “want” to “understand.” Bride of Culture Snob noted “need Peña,” which I pointed out could actually be read as “writer need Peña.”

The Knight’s Armor

dark_knight7.jpgIt’s become apparent with The Dark Knight that dissent will not be tolerated by the movie’s fans.

But contrary arguments, even if they’re wrong, serve an important purpose, assuming they’re thoughtful and supported; they can help opponents question themselves and ultimately develop better cases. In that spirit, I recommend Patchwork Earth’s review, which is thorough and articulate. (It’s correct, too.)

My goal here is to raise some very specific complaints (very randomly) to prompt the film’s many, many supporters to re-think their adoration of Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie; I’m saying it’s a not-great (and probably not-good) movie.

dark_knight4.jpgThis is the short take,
because the longer version
will take many days.

On Saturday night,
The Dark Knight’s eager patrons
were damned attentive.

Stunning politeness
— no cell phones, no chattering —
spoke volumes sans sound.

Yet, while absorbing,
the movie is troublesome,
lesser than Begins.

dark-knight1.jpgI’m starting to get worried about The Dark Knight.

My concern stems from David Edelstein’s review. I don’t care that it’s lukewarm; I do care that it’s lukewarm and that Edelstein seems to have a pretty good handle on why Batman Begins worked so well.

pixar.jpgWith surprisingly strong reviews, Hellboy II: The Golden Army topped the most recent Box Office Power Rankings, unseating WALL•E after a two-week reign.

Guillermo Del Toro’s sequel fared better with critics than its forebear, and it will be interesting to see how The Dark Knight fits into the Box Office Power Rankings picture with three (and possibly four) top-10 competitors at 72 or above on Rotten Tomatoes and 64 or higher on Metacritic. As good as the early notices have been on Christopher Nolan’s follow-up, it could easily finish fourth or fifth among critics in our measures.

But before WALL•E falls out of the cultural consciousness — it hasn’t yet, has it? — we should explore a question: If you’re Pixar and Disney, do you begin to fret about bloated budgets? The worldwide gross of Pixar features compared to production budget has been on the decline. The ratio was more than 12-to-1 for Toy Story and dipped to what was then a low of 4.60 for Monsters, Inc. before recovering with Finding Nemo (9.22), The Incredibles (6.91), and Cars (6.6).

But with production budgets topping $150 million for Ratatouille and WALL•E, those last three numbers might be impossible to replicate. The former’s gross-to-budget ratio was a Pixar-low (but still spectacular) 4.14, and for the latter to have a ratio of 5, it would need to earn $900 million worldwide — which only Finding Nemo has come within $260 million of. These movies are still immensely profitable, but I’m not seeing an additional $60 million to $90 million on the screen.

Continue reading for the weeks’ full rankings and the methodology.

self-involvement.jpgThe Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon ended yesterday, and while participation was ... selective, I couldn’t be happier with the submissions. My own writing aside, the blog-a-thon generated 14 15 new essays (as of July 15) and gave new life to a handful of others. More importantly, the work was often searching, naked, funny, touching, real, and resonant.

Tardy submissions are welcome, although reader interest in any blog-a-thon seems to peak near the beginning and die quickly once it’s over. (Self-Involvement Central reads by day: 123, 81, 68, 53, 56.) Late contributions can be made in comments, through the Culture Snob e-mail form, or in an e-mail message to snob@culturesnob.net.

One of the unfortunate side effects of running this blog-a-thon (while having a full-time job, a marriage, and an infant child, at least) was that the curator so far has only skimmed the offerings. I plan to rectify that this week, and I hope to offer some awards by week’s end. No prizes, outside of the satisfaction of a job well done and perhaps some graphic based on the crappy blog-a-thon logo.

In a prefatory note to his contribution, Michael Peterson noted:

“Have you noticed, in your Internet travels, that when it comes to blogging, the film critics seem to have a greater sense of community than many of the other groups?”
Yes, I have, and I’m grateful for it. I might be a fifth-tier movie blogger (or sixth- or seventh-), but I’ve benefited greatly from the generosity of others.

So thanks first to the blog-a-thon’s contributors, who proved that they aren’t self-involved at all. Thanks also to the many people who linked to the blog-a-thon and sent readers who would have otherwise remained blissfully unaware of the self-involvement of others.

And with that, I am submitting my retirement papers for blog-a-thon hosting.

But as training camp approaches next summer, if I find myself with an unsoothable itch, I reserve the right to rescind my retirement and demand a trade.

aidanquinn.jpgThese are things that just ain’t happening for the Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon, for reasons of time, energy, and tone. Feel free to steal an idea — the blog-a-thon runs until Sunday, and we’re not much for deadlines. Or beg me to complete one in particular.

My Movie Body. In which I reconstruct myself (Frankenstein’s monster style) using the parts of movie characters/actors. But probably with Ewan McGregor’s penis, because I get at least one upgrade, don’t I? Inspired by a certain resemblance to Aidan Quinn.

drive-in.jpgDearest Emily,

Right now, your primary activities are eating, reaching, sleeping, pooping, laughing, peeing, bouncing, crying, sitting up, and spitting up, but before I know it you’ll be running around and saying all the nasty words you’ve learned from your parents.

And before we get too wrapped up in soccer practice and homework, I want to ask a favor: Each year on my birthday, I want my present from you to be sitting with me and your mother and watching a movie, and talking about it afterward.

I’ve chosen a movie for each year through 2029 — when you’ll be 21 and I’ll be 58. I plan to be around, but if I’m not, please watch these with your mother on April 29. She’ll be able explain a lot.

BOUNCE•E

A documentary short by Jeff Ignatius. Starring Emily. And the voice of Pamela.

When I said “self-involvement,” I meant it.

To mark the fifth birthday of Culture Snob (and the second day of the Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon), some raw data and some calculations:

In five years, Culture Snob has produced 514 entries, 36 polls, and 17 commentary tracks — nine full-movie commentaries and eight of the five-minute variety. I have written roughly 450,000 words for the site — an average of about 250 a day, or enough to fill 1,800 double-spaced typed pages over the site’s life.

For many years, I’ve said honestly that I have no idea what trigger pushed me from being an ardent consumer of movies to a film lover. Alternatively (and ultimately less truthfully), I’ve said that there was no specific movie/incident, instead placing the transformation some time in the early 1990s. Occasionally, I’ve credited seeing Fearless in fall 1993, and the connection between Peter Weir’s movie and my father’s death.

The vagueness of my answers has long bothered me, but I didn’t do much about it. Watching the new Criterion release of Before the Rain was epiphanic, though: I recognized that the movie was a critical event for me.

So I decided to piece together my movie history in a way less random than previous efforts; I wanted to construct something coherent and meaningful.

The Humans Are Dead

wall-e2.jpgA few caveats at the outset: Bad Dog Ginger was causing disruptions resulting from her intense interest in a cat at the drive-in, and five-month-old Emily was causing disruptions because her normal sleep schedule was itself disrupted. So I did not have the opportunity to concentrate fully on Pixar’s WALL•E.

But I doubt that my attention would have been rewarded. Once the movie zooms to a bustling cruise (space)ship, WALL•E is fine, but it felt like Monsters, Inc. 2 — manic and bright and silly.

self-involvement.jpgIt was a summer in the early 1980s. We were on a family vacation. Perhaps to Disney World. It seemed that at every stop on our journey, Under the Rainbow was in a constant loop on HBO on our hotel television. We must have seen parts of it a dozen times. Memory is a fickle thing, but I remember that the PG-rated farce had one bare breast that pops out when the little people are running through a communal dressing room, or somesuch.

I mention this because I can, as we have arrived at the Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon, running Wednesday, July 9, through Sunday, July 13. This is the official Culture Snob birthday party, with this little site celebrating its fifth birthday on July 10. So give me a present: Write something for my blog-a-thon!

I’ll collect submissions in this entry over the course of the blog-a-thon. Links to submissions are best made in the comments, as work and Emily responsibilities will likely prevent prompt posting. (Self-involvement alert: baby pictures!) You can also send links to snob@culturesnob.net.

When I first announced this Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon, I inexactly framed my goals:

“The Self-Involvement Blog-a-thon is about the intersection of movies and life [...] .”“Of course, we bring baggage whenever we talk or write about movies, but this is meant to be more personal [...] .”

(Self-involvement alert: the quoting of oneself!)

One commenter on another site correctly noted:

“Isn’t that terribly redundant, though? What else is the blogosphere all about except intensely personal reactions — to the cinema and everything else?”

She prompted me to clarify my intent:

“Most film writing is movies filtered through the self; I want the self filtered through movies.”

So there it is. As with my previous blog-a-thons, my goal is to write something new for each day, just in case nobody else participates.

Continue reading to see the submissions. (Last update: 12:05 p.m. CDT, July 15.)

wall_e.jpgIt will come as no surprise that WALL•E is the champion in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings.

But there was one shock: Pixar’s latest didn’t earn a perfect score, because Wanted actually earned more money per theater. (The latter made $12 million less, but it showed in 800 fewer theaters.)

That’s significant because they had offsetting disadvantages: WALL•E was handicapped by children’s ticket prices, while Wanted was hamstrung by its R rating. So the per-theater take of Wanted has to be considered a major victory.

The rankings should get interestingly competitive in the coming weeks, as WALL•E and Kung Fu Panda will make it difficult for other movies to score 9s and 10s on the critical criteria; they have respective Rotten Tomatoes scores of 96 and 88, and Metacritic scores of 93 and 73.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Pixar Perfect

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