Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Things I learnt today (Oct 16th 2007)

1. Michael Clayton opened in the US last Friday, and box office pundits are shocked and horrified to find that it failed to secure the number one spot. IMDb said:

Michael Clayton, which had been the odds-on favorite among movie pundits to win the weekend box-office crown, not only didn't finish in first place -- it didn't even make third place, as studio estimates had initially indicated. Clayton, it turns out, earned $10.37 million, putting it slightly behind the crime drama We Own the Night, which took in $10.83 million. Equally surprising to some writers was that the film that did top the box office charts was the low-budget Why Did I Get Married, from writer-producer-director Tyler Perry. The film raked in $21.35 million, about twice the earnings of The Game Plan, which placed second with $11.04 million.

Really? This is surprising? I'm psyched that Gorgeous George is committed to making challenging, intelligent, adulty films (not counting Danny Ocean's European Vacation and Danny Ocean and the Amazing Xeroxed Plot From Two Films Ago), and grateful to him for having that ambition, even when it doesn't quite work out: Good Night, and Good Luck was a terrific hour of cinema with an extra pointless 20 minutes bolted onto it. Wow, making even the mildest criticism of Clooney makes me feel like I'm kicking a handsome and debonair puppy. I'm sorry, George! Good Night looked beautiful! And it was really well cast! Please don't hate me! Anyway, Syriana was good enough for two films, so it evens up.

Sadly, his smart, liberal, humanist movies tend to make very little money, and even taking into account the often limited release, the audience for these films is large enough to make the odd small profit, but not big enough to make waves in the turbulent box office waters. Solaris only made $14,973,382 in the domestic market, and $30,002,758 overall. It would have to sell a shitload of DVDs to make up the rest of the budget. Syriana did a lot better, with a worldwide gross of $93,974,620, but it had an opening weekend of $11,737,143. Not earth-shattering. That said, it only opened on about 1500 screens, and Michael Clayton opened on 1000 screens more, but the fallacy is that the relative, small-scale success of his smart movies can be expanded when released on a larger scale remains.

I remember noticing this error years ago, when big and successful action movies (usually those produced by Joel Silver), would often gross around £100-120m, domestic box office. No matter what the budget, the final figure was often the same (and significantly less for the failures). No-brainer jokey action movies would often top out at the same number, but budgets were busted chasing a finite audience. Sure, there were variations from that; Lethal Weapon 2, 3 and 4 could top that (by about $30m), as could the Die Hard movies, and Terminator 2 broke that barrier and then some, but they had a wider appeal. Bog-standard action movies had a fixed audience, and trying to get bigger box office by spending more money was foolish.

You had to appeal to people outside that box to do it. It wasn't just spectacle that made Terminator 2 such a hit; it was the message of hope within it (and the CGI, which drew oohs and ahhs of amazement from the audience when I saw it. Ah, the 90s!). In today's money, the same holds true; Bad Boys II and The Rock, for example, both stopped at about $140m, and Con Air and Gone In Sixty Seconds made $100m each. In the end they're profitable, but the larger the budget, the smaller that profit. It's science. Or maths. Whatever.

So yeah, putting Michael Clayton on more screens and pushing it with more publicity was not going to work. SmartClooney has a fanbase, and they came out this weekend, probably grateful for the release of something meatier than family comedies starring a wasted The Rock. But that's the ceiling for these movies. So why did pundits miss this? And why the hell did they think the new Tyler Perry movie would make less money?

I know very very very little about these things, but right now that guy guarantees boffo box office (yeah, I went there). His films cost a few cents and make around $50-60m each time out. His opening weekends are between $20-30m. His last film opened bigger than this one, in fact, so why would this one not be a big hit? Did they really think the Tyler Perry bubble had burst? He's not going anywhere any time soon. So anyway, I have learnt that box office pundits can often make terrible gaffes, and I have also learnt that the international gross of Diary of a Mad Black Woman was $19,104. I doubt the new film will be appearing in our local Vue any time soon. I'm sure the studio would love to up their take by releasing his films internationally, but I get the feeling they have no idea what the hell Perry's appeal is, so how would they be able to market it? Best to just let it make the modest money it is, rather than admit his unusual shtick perplexes them. (Almost all of the figures here are from Box Office Mojo.)

2. I may love Institutionalised by Suicidal Tendencies (which I first heard on the stunning Repo Man soundtrack many years ago), but playing that shit on a plastic guitar while sleep-deprived like I did this morning can actually cause you to get so addled you might actually end up actually literally instititutionalised, for realsies. It may have snapped my brain right down the middle. Now all I can see when I close my eyes are the coloured dots of Guitar Hero II, relentlessly descending, forever falling, like day-glo blobs of concentrated hand-cramp juice dropping into my eyes. It's a miracle I can type anything other than "Bzzzzt", because of all the rhythm-game induced mind-static. But I cannot stop until I better my score. Is crack this addictive? I doubt it's as entertaining.

3. Two reports on immigration were published yesterday, and while the left wing press focussed on the positive, the right wing press, predictably, concentrated on the negative. This is, of course, nothing new, but yesterday I found out that the reason the paper prints such skewed garbage is that Paul Dacre and his vile minions know for a fact that the core readership of the Mail is obsessed with Anti-Logic. This letter is, I promise you, absolutely real.

I have it on good authority that the majority of letters sent to the Mail offices are even more insane than the ones that make it into the paper, but this one must have slipped through. Oddly, there is no evidence of this mountain of work on the internet. Someone should tell this guy that he can publish his staggering, world-changing work on the internet, where it will be lauded and coveted for the rest of time. I mean, what did Einstein ever do for us, other than pull that funny face they keep putting on posters? Screw you, Einstein. Go back to the patent office and shuffle your papers. Did you ever make all of life's intrinsic paradoxes perfectly rational? No, you made them worse! Overrated big-haired jerk.


What's going on? What does it mean? Is that the cockpit of Oceanic 815? Desmond has resurfaced? How did they get so far into the island since the season 3 finale? Where's Hurley and Jin? Is that writing above the windows of the plane? Why does the clapperboard guy look so pissed? Is he working for The Dharma Initiative? If not, why doesn't he realise he's a lucky son of a bitch to be working on the best show currently on TV, even though it's not actually on TV right now? And what's going to happen with new cast member Andrea "Rescue Me" Roth? She's just been hired to play a therapist, according to TV Guide. I guess she's situated off-island. If she was on the island she'd have been dealing with multiple daddy issues, which would be even less fun than being repeatedly slammed into the ground by Ol' Smokey.

5. Viggo Mortensen is a fascinating son of a bitch, and I can't wait to see Eastern Promises.

Mortensen plays a mobster working for a Russian gang in London, and to hone his portrayal he travelled to Moscow, St Petersburg and the mountain villages of the Urals.

He refused to take an interpreter, relying on gestures and his own facility for languages - he speaks Danish and Spanish fluently and can get by in four other languages.

“I know everyone was a little bit worried because I disappeared for two weeks,” he said. “They said I should have someone go with me into the underworld, but the whole point was not to get a filtered version of what Russians do and what they’re like.

“I just wanted to draw my own conclusions. I met a lot of people and talked to them. I met people who had experiences in prisons and understood more about street slang. They helped me tweak some of the dialogue.

“Then I found someone who had a car and he took me into the countryside and to these villages. There I saw how these mobsters looked at each other and how they lived. I also drank a lot of vodka.”

It was not until the last day of his trip that his cover was blown. “A little boy started staring at me, then he pointed and whispered, ‘Aragorn?’”

All this and his Amazing Flying Balls of Doom. Counting the days until it comes out.

6. The cook in the canteen where I work is the worst cook in the world. I ended up with a piece of peri-peri chicken that oozed blood when cut into, and after taking it back and having it cooked for a while longer (15 minutes), it had brown skin but pink flesh. I'm amazed I'm not doubled over in agony right now. A colleague bought some scrambled eggs, and they were off. Yesterday this guy made baguette halves with oily, droopy roast vegetables and nuclear-orange cheese. Just thinking about it is making me woozy. Time to start bringing sandwiches in again.

7. Studio 60 just arrived on UK terrestrial Channel 4, and I see that the oleaginous praise has continued. As we've said before, it's not so much the praise that bothers us (everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion) [Hold on there -- the praise definitely bothers me, and if you like the show, your opinion is wrong -- Canyon], it's the relentless carping that it failed because the audience (i.e. everyone who watches TV who isn't a fan of the show) killed it. They mean you, if you're not watching it. And if you are watching it, you're not watching it enough! You should be transformed by it like someone rising from their wheelchair at Lourdes, and then you should badger all of your friends and families into watching it. If you're not walking down the high street wearing a sandwich board showing a picture of Danny and Matt treating their womenfolk like teeny tiny toy people who should just damn well shut up and worship their glorious alpha male genitalia, then you are scum! SCUM!!! Much to our amusement/horror, we saw that Andrew Mueller was up to his old tricks at the weekend:

West Wing auteur Aaron Sorkin's series set in the milieu of a late-night chat show is possibly the greatest example of a show out-clevering itself. As well as being a superior soap opera, an intelligent comedy and a brilliantly acted ensemble piece, Studio 60 functions as an insidious critique of a televisual culture in which anything intelligent is hunted down and killed by the agents of mediocrity - as Studio 60 indeed was, cancelled by its network inside its debut season. These first two episodes, which have finally landed on terrestrial, are a tantalizing hint of what's to come.

If he thinks TV is so bad now, how about this 70s gem, from The Laurence Welk Show:

In comparison, I think we're doing okay nowadays. Yes, there is a lot of crap on TV now, and networks are run by craven cowards with no understanding of counter-cultural ideas. We get that. However, there's good stuff too. Someone please hand Mueller (and several other UK TV critics) a few boxsets. Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, Arrested Development, everything by Whedon. Then you have the shows on cable: Battlestar Galactica; The Daily Show; The Colbert Report; all of the shows on the HBO roster. There is a point to be made that there isn't enough biting satire on US (or UK) TV, or enough investigative journalism, but it's not like there is no important, worthy work on TV, and besides, Sorkin making obvious points in his risible Studio 60 sketches is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Plus, it was often as emptily jingoistic as a Fox News broadcast, which was either Sorkin speaking from the heart or an attempt to placate his network masters in order to get more "subversive" stuff into the show. Like Crazy Christians. So much for Sorkin's supposed moral courage.

Mueller and his ilk are right; the medium that is TV has an enormous hole in it, and Studio 60 tried to fill it. We will always need intelligent daring comedy and brave satire. But Studio 60 was. not. that. show. Which is why it was such a painful, frustrating, upsetting failure. Dear God, I have to let this go or I'll go crazy. It never seems to end!

ETA: I can't stop watching that Laurence Welk clip. Flap those arms in the xenon-rich air like you and your robot helper just don't care! Then kick, Bobby and Cissy! Kick! Kick! Spin! Flap! Kick! Interpretive brilliance. Why was Spielberg so eager to get an Oscar for all those years when this superb tribute was out there? That's just ungrateful.


Masticator said...

Bradshaw's given Eastern Promises a slagging.

Admiral Neck said...

Yeah, I saw that and almost linked to it, but I figured quoting that awesome weirdo Mortensen and then making a joke about his balls was more in keeping with my enthusiasm for the project.

Whatever. He's still going on about Cronenberg making horror movies, even though now only about half of his filmography is horror. If he can't move on from that he should just go and re-watch his favourite movie, The Lion, The Witch, The Wardrobe, and the Beaver With Ray Winstone's Voice.