Sunday, August 16, 2009

Quality is Elusive, Sorta

It's hard being a film snob. These days movies are all made for thirteen year old boys, and to face facts-- the high-octane, CGI heavy, sexuality flaunting fare that makes them soil their pants is hardly for anyone else, but particularly not for a film snob. Confined in a small city-- the largest theater in which has a respectable but thoroughly inefficient twelve(?) screens-- it has been a difficult few months.

Typically I'm not one to go to the movies. Not because I don't love the experience, or movies, but because my transportation is limited (albeit willfully). Still, I take comfort in the fact that should I want to Savannah's Regal/Wynnsong 21-screen partnership could accommodate me. In Utica, however, and undoubtedly in rural, and "nameless" cities across the country there is no such luxury. An eight screen theater can only screen the standard studio turnout (Plotless CGI action movie, cookie-cutter romantic comedy, Pixar-type knockoffs, and volume-based "scary" movies). So as I've seen trailers for films such as Whatever Works, The Hurt Locker, (500) Days of Summer, and Paper Hearts-- plus countless movies I've read reviews for in EW-- I've been ripping my hair out in frustration. For the first time in a long time I have easy access to a movie theater, and where are all the films I'm dying to see? Wherever they are, they're not here.

As an admitted film snob, I'll be the first to say that I'm obviously in the minority. There are-- though I shudder to think of it-- millions of people more than happy to see Transformers or G.I. Joe. The question is why. The American public isn't so stupid as all of that, I assure you. They can't be, because if they were we'd be facing extinction tomorrow. Certainly these types of film will always have a market, there will always be people who were dropped on their heads as children, but the success of these mind-numbing movies can only be because of a limited marketplace. When you need food, you buy what you can get-- even if it looks awful, you hope it tastes better then it looks. If you want to go to the movies, you see what's playing.

I don't mean to give the American public more credit than they deserve. Fact: People will continue to like bad movies, and will continue to see them. Fact: People will continue to be unable to "read" trailers to determine what the quality of the movie will be. But, in a more diverse marketplace I can't imagine smarter films failing. Don't the good/great action movies end up doing better then the bad ones? Don't most good TV shows outlive bad ones? Yes, occasionally the American public drops the ball but more often then not something of quality will do better than its poorly constructed counterpart. Sadly, this doesn't include books as about half of the home-run success (Oprah picks excluded) are duds (Di Vinchi Code, Twilight, Mitch Albom), but whoever suggested the American public were readers anyway?

The American public doesn't know what it's missing, and frankly their ignorance is torture. I've always believed there is a complacency with the main stream-- and therefore an obstinacy about searching beyond it. That requires some work, and meanwhile we could be watching Scary Movie 13. In any event, its been a tough summer. None of the four movies I've seen this summer (Up, Public Enemies, The Proposal, Julie & Julia) won me over, and worse they're the only films I cared to see (save Bruno, which I didn't get to see) to come to theaters in the past eight weeks or so. District 9 might prove to be my savior, I truly hope it is, because otherwise this summer has been devoid of any good films.

The silver lining: we film snobs are not alone. After my four hour day at Munson Williams Proctor this Friday, I grabbed lunch and returned to the museum to go through a gallery I hadn't been to in awhile. To my surprise, the museums theater was open and tickets were being collected. I had largely been dismissive of the museum's film series, not even bothering to see what was playing, but with the Uptown Theatre playing the revolting trio of G.I. Joe, Aliens in the Attic, and The Ugly Truth-- I figured I didn't have much to lose. What I watched was a beautifully shot French film from 2008 entitled Seraphine, and while it didn't leave me starry-eyed, it was undoubtedly the best film experience of the summer. Who would have thought Utica had an art-house scene, much less a lively enough one to fill 1/3 of a museum theater at 2PM? And the upcoming movies? This years Academy Award Winner for best foreign film, The Hurt Locker, and (500) Days of Summer (though regrettably I'll be in Savannah for the last). No excuse America, you need to smarten up!

P.S.- Ironicly, this blog comes at a time when the major movie theater has two movies I want to see. Ah, Timing- you suck.


Kiriska said...

Oh, I don't know. Do good action movies always do better than bad action movies? Do good movies in general always do better than bad movies? These days, it seems largely dependent on established fanbases and hype, especially considering the volume of films coming out that are sequels, prequels, remakes, or adaptations. Those sorts of movies are further complicated in the "good" or "bad" categorization by judgmental purists. Then again, a lot of big franchise titles will do great opening weekend and then drop off the charts, so what counts as "successful"?

Is/was "Moon" playing in your theatre? It sounds pretty interesting and I've heard good things about it, but I haven't had a chance to see it. Lemme know how Ponyo goes; I haven't seen that either.

Joe said...

I'm not at all saying that a bad movie will do poorly-- far from it-- what I mean is that films like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Star Trek BECAUSE they're good end up doing better in the end.

For example- Iron Man was an unknown character to a lot of America, but the film made 318mil domestic. Wolverine, a star character even before the X-men movies-- "only" made 179mil domestic.

Bad movies will do well too, but they have high first weekend falloff (at least often enough), and if they don't they still fall short of good movies with enough frequency, at least in the action genre, that I have some confidence. Transformers 2 being one of a great many of exceptions, I'm sure.

Good movies get word of mouth where movies that register as "ok" (but really suck) don't. Irregular demographics come to the theater for movies with word of mouth. Not to mention DVD sales. If first weekend drop off doesn't do it, DVD sales will.

There is money in bad movies, certainly, but I feel as though good movies are generally (but not always) in the end more successful fiscally. Look at the Hangover. I haven't seen it, but that sucker is still hanging on, and only because of the good word of mouth.

I hadn't even HEARD of Moon, but no it certainly wasn't playing. I'm curious to see it now though. If I get a chance to see Ponyo, I'll cetainly blog it.

CC44 said...

Ponyo was absolutely wonderful. I'll be posting a review in the next few days. Wonderful, I tell you. You should go see it, now, if for no other reason than to look at it.

There's way more to do than look at it, but it sure is pretty.