Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Is 3D Dead?

It sometimes feels as if I'm the only person on the planet that still believes 3D is a viable storytelling device rather than a phase Hollywood is going through.  Almost every week people say that it's dead, that there hasn't been a great 3D experience since "Avatar," and that nobody cares about it anymore.  It's very disappointing to think that we have already forgotten about "Life of Pi," and how much the 3D helped that movie be what it was.  Even the late film critic Roger Ebert (who was an outspoken critic of 3D) admitted that the 3D in that movie was good.  And this was last November.  Yet less than a year later people are signaling the death bell for 3D once again.  They point to the fact that 3D tickets have amounted to less than 30% per movie this year (on average).  Surely that's proof that the format is dead right?  I've responded to criticism's with this one point: Do you know what the best 3D experience I've had this year is?

Answer: "The Smurfs 2."

Now this is not the best 3D movie I've seen all year as "The Smurfs 2" is easily the worst film I've seen all year.  But in terms of using 3D properly in a way that makes it essential to the story, this is the best I've seen the format used all year.  Now, think about that.  If THAT'S the movie that has the best use of 3D this year then that might explain why people are turning their backs on the format!  Who wants to see movies like "The Smurfs 2" at all?  When movies like "Monsters University" can't make good use of the format why spend the extra $3?  Even special effects films like "Man of Steel" and "R.I.P.D." are up-converted from 2D to be given 3D effects that only kind of work.  I mean, at this point "Avatar" is almost four years old.  "Life of Pi" is only months old.

Don't the studios realize at this point that up-conversion isn't the same thing as natural 3D, and that people feel slighted when they see it because they know they've been duped?  I said it early on and it's a shame that I have to keep pointing it out, but unless Hollywood makes more movies in natural 3D that makes the movie immersive then 3D movies are going to continue to tank.  People don't want to spend an extra $3 on a movie and have it look like a cheap pop-up book.  "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Life of Pi," and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" showed that if done properly, people will embrace it.  As for the people who said 3D at home is a dead thing I want to make the following comments.  Yes, 3D TV's haven't taken off as makers had hoped, but 3D technology is so cheap almost every TV comes with it now.  And in a few years all the TV's will have it and it will just be another feature.  Then it will be embraced.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another Blah Movie Weekend

September is just the worst time to be a film critic.  It feels like a slow day at Wal-Mart all month long, where every time you hope something interesting is going to happen, and yet nothing does.  So far "Salinger" has not appeared in any of my local theaters and I didn't get an invite to "Riddick," so I've pretty much been at home working on Oscar related books and reviews.  I did manage to rant about Disney's "The Little Mermaid: Second Screen Experience" that they are releasing next week over at Examiner, but so far nothing new to see.  I mentioned this enough times on Twitter that a couple of teenage girls tweeted me that "One Direction: This Is Us" is actually being re-released this weekend with twenty additional minutes of footage which will include four songs that weren't in the first cut of the film.

I assume these girls (who I'm pretty sure I know personally) brought this up because they want another review of the movie.  One that hopefully is more positive this time around.  Well, sorry to disappoint you two young girls, but unless the ticket is paid for I'm not seeing that movie again.  In fact, I want to take this moment to point out that such a release actually makes me like the movie even less.  It just makes it so obvious what "One Direction: This Is Us" REALLY is: A product to sell!  Alright, yeah, in a sense all movies are products that are sold, but this one has a specific audience that the studios knew wanted to see this and they planned the whole release around them.  Since this is essentially a promotional film they released it on opening day to those fans screaming fans, waited a couple of weeks so that kids could save their money once more, and now they are going to sell the movie to those same exact people.

If this were a real movie it could remain in the box office top ten without having to resort to cheap marketing tricks like this, but since it isn't a good movie this is the only way to make more money off it.  Heck, the studio for the Justin Bieber movie did the exact same thing in the exact same time frame.  The only time a new cut of a film is worth while is when several years have gone by and the director has had time to reflect on the film and make some new tweaks which he/she hopes will make the movie better.  In the case of George Lucas we know that sometimes its best to leave well enough alone, but in the case of Peter Jackson we also know there are some clear benefits to going back to the original work and tweaking it a little.  But "One Direction: This Is Us" is not going to benefit from that extra twenty minutes nor does the two week span give Morgan Spurlock any reason to revisit it.  This is a studio marketing ploy, plain and simple.

In fact, because it's a slow weekend I'll upload a review of a REAL music documentary you can watch this weekend as opposed to seeing "One Direction: This Is Us" again!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Using the Power of Social Media to Avoid Actually Updating the Website!!!

All right, so it's not really like that.  I love the website and I would NEVER replace it for social media!  Social media has it's place in the world, but there's still nothing that beats an old fashioned website that you've made yourself as opposed to using someone else's design.  However I do use Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to share my reviews as well because I'd be silly not to.  The thing is as I get more and more readers I'm getting a bit...uncomfortable using my personal Facebook page as a place to share my reviews.  Not only can they easily be buried under all the other stuff I use that page for, but I don't think I like the idea of complete strangers just following me.

Therefor I have finally made the official The Movie Facebook Page!

For those who like getting your reviews on your Facebook page now you can do just that.  Just click on the link above, Like it, and then share the page with your friends (if you my site is worth recommending that is).  I have also moved this here updates blog to the top because...well, it doesn't do much good being near the bottom right?  Seriously, I don't know what I was thinking putting it down at the bottom.  That is such a rookie mistake and I should have known better.  So to recap the updates blog is now near the top and The Movie officially has a fan page on Facebook.  That seems to be enough for the time being.

P.S. If you've been wondering where the "Man of Steel" review is, to help celebrate the launch of the Facebook page that review (as well as a couple other reviews) can be found exclusively there...for now.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

So Many Movies, So Little Time...

The Movie is an anomaly in today's world of the web.  I was having a conversation with someone at a party a couple of weeks ago who I struck up a conversation about technology.  Eventually the discussion went to my books where this new acquaintance suggested making an app for my website.  He started laying out all the ways I could make my site more popular by making it more interactive.  Some of the suggestions he came up with included:

  • Including a comments section in each of the reviews (I've actually tried this before, but it's always worth trying again).
  • Make pop-up trivia available.
  • Include clips and trailers in all the reviews.
  • Include an RSS feed where movie news can be posted within minutes.
He mentioned more features but I think this is the point where I started to tune out a little bit.  See, while I am glad that the blogosphere exists and has given lots of people a chance to voice their opinions on the internet, I sometimes feel a little intimidated by the sheer demand for new content all the time.  I love talking about movies and writing reviews, but there's so much movie news on a daily basis that it makes my head spin.  I don't care whether or not Brad Pitt has memory problems but I do care if "Fast & Furious 6" is worth seeing.  So I channel my energy to watching movies and reviewing them.  But if I tried to be an all-inclusive interactive site I fear that that would turn my site into something its not.

There are tons of movie blogs out there talking about movie gossip, industry news, and Oscar predictions.  There are few sites that actually discuss the movies themselves.  There's something wrong with that thinking I feel.  I have this updates blog but I rarely update it (as you've probably noticed).  I feel that The Movie is unique because it contains movie reviews and little else.  Sure, I'll post the occasional YouTube rant or write an editorial about a dumb business decision, but the site has always been about the movies first and foremost.  Though I didn't reject the idea of an app outright I have my concerns that trying to please everyone will betray the spirit of what this site represents.

I'm not saying my reviews are gold, but once all the blog posts come and go what you have left are the movies themselves.  So while people might not care why Steven Soderberg was fired from directing "Moneyball" in ten years they will care if the movie is worth seeing.  And so I spend so much time writing movie reviews that blog posts like these are a pain to sit down and write.  One thing my new friend did point out though was true: Updating once or twice a week makes it hard to capture the attention of an internet that is constantly hungry for more stuff to read.  While I don't really want to contribute to this mindset (I feel like I'm feeding a chef who is full) I do want to update more than I do.

Over the past couple years I've been writing reviews for future Oscar books and a series on the Criterion Collection that I want to publish someday.  I've been putting this reviews in folders for the books I'll need them for, but I think it would be beneficial to let my readers see those.  So once fall comes around and the hectic summer movie season is over I'm going to start formatting these reviews and posting one a day for the days I don't have reviews for new movies.  I have a large buffer so I could theoretically upload a new review every day for at least a year.  I think that would provide fresh, daily content in a way that isn't too stressful on me or diverts from what the site is really about.

It will also give me a chance to diversify by publishing reviews for classic films, cult films, and random films (rather than just recent releases).  And who knows, maybe I'll even be able to brainstorm a good app that will enhance how you read these reviews.  So stay tuned because come fall it will be a new chapter for The Movie!

Monday, February 25, 2013

How “Argo’s” Best Picture Win Voids any Purpose the Academy Awards Had

There’s got to be a morning after, and so ends the 85th Academy Awards.  The prizes have been given out; there was a lot of heartbreak, and now its time to gear up for the next show.  Last night the top Prize went to Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” which was the frontrunner going into the race because of all the predecessor awards it racked up.  The Producer’s Guild of America, the Director’s Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild of America, and the Writer’s Guild of America all gave “Argo” the top honors in each of their awards shows.  So of course it was only natural that “Argo” would be the favorite going into the race.  There was just one thing wrong: “Argo” didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

I sense the movie wasn’t even loved by the Academy all that much because not only did it fail to secure a nomination that is practically essential to win the top prize, it came in fifth place in terms of nominations with a measly 7 (the movies leading it had 12, 11, and two films got 8).  So what does this mean?  Well, it means that the Academy Awards officially made themselves irrelevant.  Even more so than they already are to most people.  And this isn’t because “Argo’s” a bad movie.  On the contrary, I gave the film the full five stars and put it at number three on my Best Films of the Year list.  So why I say that “Argo” winning made the Academy irrelevant?

To start this story let us look back to late last year when the Academy announced that they would have the voters turn in their ballots before the guilds announced their nominations.  There had been a lot of criticism that the Academy voting body was just a group of sheep that would follow the guilds wherever they went.  Granted, the Academy has leaned on the guilds for years, but now that we have bloggers and Twitter people can follow them and the race becomes rather boring as one film wins everything.  So the Academy decided they would cast their votes for the nominees before the guilds announced theirs, and would open the real voting up after the guilds had ended.

The point of this was to allow the voters to have more time to reflect on the awards without just following the crowd.  Once Ben Affleck got snubbed for Best Director though, the guilds got a little prissy with them.  Three of the Best Director nominations weren’t close to what the guilds had predicted.  Where was Kathryn Bigelow?  Where was Quentin Tarrentino?  What about Tom Hooper?  And where was Ben Affleck?  The actor who reinvented himself as a great director.  How DARE they snub him?!  He’s the golden standard all actors should look to.  When the dust settled, the guilds decided the Academy had done a great wrong in the world and set out to fix it.

Now the Golden Globe “Argo” won was irrelevant because the Globes aired the night of the Oscar nominations, so their choice of “Argo” probably had more to do with the fact that they could get Ben Affleck on stage that night instead of spiting the Academy.  The rest of the guilds buckled down though.  They were going to prove to the Academy that they had made a mistake, and they were going to push their underdog through to the big prize.  And so one after another the guilds gave “Argo” their top spots in the awards.  The PGA gave “Argo” Best Picture of the year.  This is the one award no one really complained about though because the nominees were so good anything could win.

But then the SAG gave “Argo” the award for Best Ensemble Cast.  This was an award that appeared to be a lock for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which had several actors up for individual awards at the SAG (and the Oscars, becoming the first film since “Reds” to have acting nods in all four categories).  In contrast, the only actor singled out as being award worthy for “Argo” was Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor.  We figured that could have been a fluke though since the actors especially took it hard when Affleck was snubbed, so this could have been their way of getting even.  But then the Scribbler and WGA gave “Argo” the award of Best Adapted Screenplay.  What was going on?

It had strong competition from “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Life of Pi,” sure, but how did “Argo’s” screenplay beat “Lincolns” brilliant screenplay.  Then Affleck won Best Director at the DGA.  At this point I could see what was happening because Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg were competing for that award.  And with the “Argo” train picking up these awards most of us knew better than to guess his win was the result of a split vote.  Then the British Academy Film Awards gave it Best Picture and Director.  The train was speeding up and nothing could stop it.  The industry was making its point, and they were making it loud.

Now it came down to the Academy, the one awards show in town that liked it but didn’t love it.  They hadn’t been casting votes yet and now they were open.  What would they do?  Would they go their own way, prove to the guilds that they didn’t run them?  Or were they going to shake their heads in disappointment and let themselves be bullied?  Again, I want to take this moment to remind you that “Argo” is NOT a bad film!  Now that it’s part of film history people will be blessed to be watching it for years to come.  But what was at stake here, whether people realized it or not, was that the Academy’s independence was on the line.  They could have followed the crowd or done their own thing.

When they gave Ang Lee Best Director there was that sense that they were going their own path.  Sure, Affleck couldn’t win this award anyway, but “Life of Pi” was a movie the Academy loved very much.  They showered it with 11 nominations when most of the guilds were shunning it.  At this point it had won four Oscars compared to “Argo’s” two.  If “Life of Pi” was given Best Picture it would have been the Academy looking straight at the guilds and (to quote “Argo’s” most popular line) telling them “Argo f**k yourselves!”  It was their moment to shine.  To prove that they still had a voice in an industry that got carried away with the Ben Affleck pity train.  The movie has Best Director in the bad and the film had 11 nominations, so surely they wouldn’t go with “Argo” now…right?

Well, Michelle Obama opened the envelope and said the word we had all been preparing ourselves for: “Argo.”  That was it.  In moment the Academy cowered out and made themselves irrelevant.  That moment proved that regardless how they spaced the voting out, they would always follow the guilds even if they didn’t have passion for the film that was winning.  And now the Academy will have some explaining to do.  They’ll have to explain why they caved in the endgame of the show.  They will have to explain how a movie with so few wins and nominations could have been named Best Picture over “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Life of Pi” (which , if last night was any indication, was in a position to win).

Now the question remains though: If the Academy lets the guilds tell them what to award, what is the point of an Academy Awards?  Why do this circus?  How can you claim to be leaders in quality films when you’re too afraid to follow your own heart in the face of lots of peer pressure?  And why should people care anymore if the winner goes to whatever the PGA says (fyi, the PGA is the first major guild to give out their awards)?  Though we’ll have to see if I’m right, the Academy may have just squashed what little respect they had with the film community.  If they are to continue to be relevant, they will need to make plans to distance themselves from the guilds as much as possible.  Show people that they reflect on the movies regardless of what the guilds say.

And they need to do it soon, because the clock is ticking…

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Case for “Life of Pi” Winning Best Picture

I’m writing this editorial a few hours before the Producer’s Guild of America hand out their award for best picture and at least 24 hours before the Screen Actors Guild does the same thing.  For many people this is a lousy time to weigh in thoughts on what can win the Best Picture at the Oscars when we have two predecessors just waiting to be discovered to give us some clarity.  This is a strange year for Oscars though (as anyone who watches these races will tell you), so I’m going to buck the trend and make my case for why I think Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is our next Best Picture winner.  And I’m going to be making my case suspecting that “Lincoln” will win the PGA tonight and “Silver Linings Playbook” tomorrow at the SAG.

One of the reasons I feel “Life of Pi” will win Best Picture is because it has consistently been undervalued as a strong contender throughout this entire race.  Early on the movie was considered a lock for a Best Picture nomination, but no one was committing it to win.  As the year went on and more great movies were released it was still looked upon as a sure thing for some Oscar nominations, but not many.  At one point Sasha Stone of Awards Daily wrote a piece worrying that the film wouldget overlooked in the main awards.  Well, come nominations morning “Life of Pi” made the cut.  Not only that, but the eleven nominations it received were discussed almost as much as Ben Affleck’s snub for Best Director.

How was a film that seemed to have largely lost its traction manage to be just one nomination shy of “Lincoln’s” twelve nominations?  If “Lincoln” was the undisputed favorite, you’d think it would have trailed behind with eight or nine nominations like…well, all the other Best Picture contenders.  But this quite, subtle film had garnered a lot of love in the background while the discussions were of “Lincoln vs. Argo vs. Zero Dark Thirty.”  What sort of amazed me even more though is that once these nominations were announced everyone jumped on the “Lincoln” winning everything bandwagon.  Then “Argo” won a few more awards and that got brought back into the conversation.

Now there’s a lot of discussion about “Silver Linings Playbook” taking the prize because of the surprise Best Director nomination and the (almost baffling) nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  And I ask again; where is “Life of Pi” in all this discussion.  It DOES have the second most nominations behind it, and it’s a movie that virtually no one hates!  The other nominated films (with maybe the exception of “Argo”) all seem to have baggage with them, ranging from too boring, too controversial, to too obscure.  Taking this all into account, “Life of Pi” seems to be in a pretty good spot to get lots of votes and win among movies that are polarizing the voters.

But what about the lack of acting nominations from the Oscars or the all-important SAG nomination?  First of all,  “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” “The Last Emperor,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Braveheart,” and many more films prior to the nineties have all won Best Picture without acting nominations, so it’s not like that’s the kiss of death.  What’s more, “Life of Pi” is a very emotional and complicated film.  But like “The Tree of Life” and “Beauty and the Beast,” the acting doesn’t stand out because it’s not really supposed to.  It’s the other aspects of the film that makes it great.  This is a movie that largely features a boy, a tiger, and not a whole lot of dialog.

It never really had much of a chance of getting any acting nominations.  Does that mean the actors hate it though?  Not at all!  In fact, look at some of the responses the movie received from actors on Twitter:

By the way, Life of Pi is amazing. Such a beautiful film.

Anne Hathaway (via WSJ interview)
I’m so grateful to him for “Life of Pi.” It’s easily one of my favorite films of all time. He’s astonishing.

Mark Wahlberg (mentioned via a satellite interview)
Mentioned that the film was one of his favorite films of the year.

Jason Alexander @ljasonalexander
I was blown away by Life of Pi tonite. Gorgeous, moving film. Ang Lee paints on film and he is a master. Cast was sublime. This is a winner!
Can't get over Life of Pi. Maybe most beautiful film I've seen in a decade. I'm going again. Take someone you love and go.

I saw 'The Life of Pi' last night. It's absolutely wonderful. I want to see it again and again.

Susan Sarandon @SusanSarandon
I loved #Life of Pi. Magical. Lyrical technology jason alexander ?

Saw Life of Pi - it's stunning! Also, as someone who wrestles with faith and doubt, it was so meaningful to me

LIFE OF PI is absolutely beautiful. By turns wild, colourful, fun, poetic, inspiring, expansive, mysterious and deep. Like the sea.

Ellen Page @EllenPage
Life of cry, I mean Pi just destroyed me. Amazing.

Rob Lowe @RobLowe
Best Supporting actor of 2012: Richard Parker, Life Of Pi.

LeVar Burton @levarburton
Oh… I forgot to tell you, Life of Pi is a visual feast!!! #2thumbsup

Just watched "Life of Pi". Bravo to Ang Lee and company. A beautiful and inspired piece of filmmaking.

Kevin Smith @ThatKevinSmith
Holy shit... I loved LIFE OF PI so much! Ang Lee is a cinematic Jedi! If you haven't seen PI yet, get eyes on it. It's simply beautiful.

Jenna Dewan-Tatum @jennaldewan
Life of Pi. Omg go see it. Run. Now. Amazing

Ricky Martin @ricky_martin
A movie that you will never forget "Life of Pi" Outstanding! I see many Oscars #MagicalRealism

Clifton Collins Jr. @ccollinsjr
Hard to not get Indian food after watching Life of Pi such an amazing film, leaves one thinking, food aside

Harry Shum Jr @iharryshum
Life of Pi was amazing! Worthwhile 3D movie. Which story do you prefer?

Betty Buckley @BettyBuckley
Last weekend I saw "Life of Pi" in 3D. Absolutely loved it! Now I have to read the book. #LifeofPi Brooke Burke Just saw Life Of Pi. Amazing! Beautiful!!

Tony Parker @tp9network
Life of PI was a good movie....

Chris Mintz-Plasse @MintzPlasse
Life of Pi was such a beautiful piece of film.

Janel Parrish @JMeilanixo
Life of Pi stole my heart.
Yessss Life of Pi was stunning.

Keke Palmer @KekePalmer

Now it should be noted that not all those actors are Academy voters (if any of them are), but it does suggest there is a strong stealth support for the movie from the actors branch.

“Life of Pi” is also the movie that makes people feel great after it’s finished.  Yeah other movies make you feel that too, but this is a movie that just impacts people who see it and it stays with them long after it’s over.  Could that be another reason the movie got so many nominations despite being released a couple months ago and wasn’t a huge box office success?  Maybe.  If that’s the case I can certainly see some of that staying power resulting in votes.  I also believe that “Life of Pi” is the one movie above all the other nominees that has people going out saying to random strangers “Hey!  Have you seen this movie?  No?  See it!  NOW!” 

But what if “Lincoln” wins the PGA tonight?  Wouldn’t that kill its chances to win Best Picture?  Not really.  Not in my mind.  In fact, I sort of assume this is how the predecessors will go:

PGA: “Lincoln”
SAG: “Silver Linings Playbook”
DGA: “Life of Pi”

As my final argument (for the time being) is “The King’s Speech” a couple of years ago.  And, no, it was NEVER the frontrunner early on!  For most of that race it was looking like “The Social Network” was going to win.  Then “The King’s Speech” started picking up awards late in the race and it was over.  But that was not a film that was considered to be a likely winner early on.  It was a small, quiet film.  The other nominees all stood out more.  But movies that make people feel good tend to be sleeping tigers waiting to be woken.  Right now “Life of Pi” is the least intimidating nominee of the bunch and not drawing much attention to itself, but we may find that is the films secret weapon in disguise.

Either way you look at it though, there are a lot of fine films that are up for Best Picture this year, and I think we’re going to be pretty happy regardless what wins.  Just don’t rule out “Life of Pi” so soon.
P.S. As a side note I want to point out that the last time we had a year this competitive was 2004, where “The Departed” won Best Picture.  Outside of Marty (finally) winning Best Director though, the guilds were largely giving the top award to “Little Miss Sunshine,” which shows once more that sometimes guilds mean something and sometimes they don’t.