April 2009 Archives

fast-and-furious.jpgA run of sequels is supposed to die a slow death, with waning interest as a series progresses. What, then, explains the $71-million opening-weekend take of Fast and Furious?

I know everybody has already forgotten the damned thing exists, but I’m still awed by that number. It’s a third sequel in a franchise nobody gets excited about, and it tops the series’ previous best start by $20 million.

Given the relatively dim star power of Vin Diesel, Paul, Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster, it can’t be attributed to their returns. So what is it?

Here’s my hypothesis: Fast and Furious isn’t a spring movie; it has marked the beginning of summer 2009.

Consider that its opening weekend was just $17 million short of Spider-Man 2’s summer 2004 debut. It’s also the biggest April opening ever — by nearly $30 million. You shall know it by the company it keeps, and these are not just summer numbers, but good summer numbers. The two Fantastic Four movies opened with $56 million and $58 million.

I had assumed that the season this year would start May 1 (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, followed the next weekend by Star Trek), but my calendar is apparently all screwed up.

You might remember that Fast and Furious was originally slated for a June 12 release. Perhaps this is evidence that summer is an attitude, not a date range.

Alas, neither Fast and Furious nor Hannah Montana: The Movie could translate their box-office wins into Box Office Power Rankings victories. With the lowest winning scores since early January (32 out of 40) and December (31), Monsters Vs. Aliens notched two more titles. This is a demonstration of the field’s weakness rather than that movie’s strength.

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

(A submission to Counting Down the Zeroes, a project by Ibetolis at Film for the Soul.)

memento07.jpgMemento is such a triumph of tricky narrative structure that it’s difficult to get (and keep) a grip on what happens, let alone the objective truth of its protagonist’s past. Christopher Nolan’s second feature, which he wrote and directed based on his brother Jonathan’s short story, seems perpetually slippery and elusive.

I’ve seen it at least six times since it was released in the U.S. in 2001 (it debuted at festivals in September 2000), and even though I know it well, each time it repeatedly throws me off. The movie’s closing line — in context, a sick joke by Nolan — is an excellent summary of how I feel watching it: “Now ... where was I?”

Yet with enough familiarity and perspective, it becomes clear that there’s no great mystery: Leonard killed his wife by accident because of his “condition,” and he will hunt down one “John G.” after another knowing, somewhere in the dark well of his mind, that he’s done it before and will do it again. Once you accept that — and therefore discount ambiguity as the source of the movie’s lasting appeal — you can see that Memento’s magnificence is its structure: a near-perfect match of form with content.

Slumdog Millionaire - The climax? Salim interrupts. The dance? Credits intrude. Boyle trashes my minor goodwill with shit I don’t care about

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requiem1.jpgIbetolis, the man behind Film for the Soul, has undertaken a massive project called “Counting Down the Zeroes,” in which he devotes a month to the movies of one year in the current decade.

I don’t understand the mechanics of his bending of space and time, but apparently 2000 ends on April 19, after which 2001 begins.

One goal is to offer “as many differing voices as possible to commentate on a decade of film.” To that end, he has accepted a 2004 essay I wrote on Requiem for a Dream into the project.

To see all the entries, you can visit Film for the Soul or the new Counting Down the Zeroes blog.

monsters-aliens.jpgThe $59.3-million opening-weekend domestic take for Monsters Vs. Aliens is being touted as proof that 3D is a viable way to pry people off their couches and get them into the damned movie theater. Nearly 56 percent of that amount came from 3D theaters, even though 3D projection accounted for only 28 percent of the movie’s screens.

That all sounds impressive, but consider that WALL·E took in $63.1 million its first weekend, Kung Fu Panda $60.2 million, and Cars $60.1 million. Yes, those were all summer movies, but they didn’t benefit from the higher ticket prices for 3D that inflated the take of Monsters Vs. Aliens. They also didn’t have the aid of a massive and well-timed handjob (in 3D, of course) from Time Inc.

Monsters Vs. Aliens admittedly did well; on the strength of its box office and solid reviews, it won this past weekend’s Box Office Power Rankings — unseating I Love You, Man.

But its success doesn’t herald the dawn of a new era, no matter what 3D messiahs Jeffrey Katzenberg and James Cameron say. Their sermons amount to wishful thinking on the part of the speakers and the converted.

Here’s my argument, having seen Monster House and some IMAX movies in 3D:

  • The supposed value of 3D is immersion. Yet surround sound already effectively and cheaply provides that illusion without the damned glasses and all the negatives that go along with them.
  • If you’ve ever watched a plunge on an IMAX screen (say, in The Dark Knight), you know that scale can also create the illusion of immersion without the glasses.
  • Great painters aren’t necessarily great sculptors, and the extra dimension requires different skills. 3D movies suck (or the 3D is superfluous) because those making them don’t know how to appropriately use the extra space. We’d have to unlearn more than a century of filmmaking to do it right.
  • 3D is antithetical to one of the major trends in cinema: the decreasing shot length. 3D effects must be set up with a stable perspective, which runs counter to the current cut-cut-cut culture.
  • 3D will be best employed in mindless entertainments, but isn’t one of the goals of mindless entertainments to maintain a safe distance — and a wall — between the consumer and the entertainment? An immersive movie — no matter the genre — will likely be too intense to allow escape; it would replace one set of stressors with another.
  • Obviously, the novelty will wear off.
  • Remember how we were all supposed to be living in our virtual-reality suits by now, and having virtual sex, and flying virtual planes?

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


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teddy.jpgSquish created what he called the “Favorite Film Characters Meme,” and he was unkind enough to tag me. And while I’m skeptical that anything can be called a “meme” at the outset, I’m game. Slow, but game.

As somebody who generally connects with movies on the structural, story, and thematic levels, this task is quite the challenge. It’s not that I don’t pay attention to characterization, but I fall in love with a work as a whole rather than a particular aspect of it. Hence, this list overlaps significantly with my favorite movies.