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Flash! Patty Jenkins Finally Inks Deal to Direct Wonder Woman 2

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Patty Jenkins has finally signed a deal to direct Wonder Woman 2 – after a long, long fight.

As Borys Kit wrote in The Hollywood Reporter, “Patty Jenkins is returning for Wonder Woman 2. After an unusually lengthy and tough negotiation, the director has closed a deal with Warner Bros. to helm, co-write and produce the sequel to the movie sensation of the summer.

The deal is precedent-setting, making Jenkins the highest-paid female filmmaker in history, though getting to this point was ‘challenging,’ according to one source. [Negotiations have been going on in earnest since August 19th, when it was rumored that a deal was imminent; now it’s September 11th; this should have been settled long ago.]

Jenkins came on to Wonder Woman as a replacement for director Michelle McLaren, who left the project over creative differences. But she became an indispensable figure and, along with star Gal Gadot, the face of the movie in the months before its June opening.

But Jenkins only had a deal for one movie.

When the film became an immediate hit, lassoing over $103 million in its opening weekend, Jenkins and her camp found themselves in a very enviable position. Negotiations began for her return after that first weekend but dragged on even as the movie showed remarkable staying power, becoming a true (and rare for summer 2017) phenomenon. The pic grossed over $402 million domestically and has topped the $800 million mark worldwide.

Sources say Jenkins will receive directing and writing fees in the high seven figures (think somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range) on Wonder Woman 2 but, more significantly, will have a considerable backend. (At her peak, filmmaker Nancy Meyers earned in the $5 million range, according to sources.)

The deal is a superheroic leap for Jenkins, who was paid $1 million for directing the initial Wonder Woman but was looking to get something more on the level of Zack Snyder’s pay after he helmed Man of Steel, according to sources. Just as Wonder Woman broke barriers for superhero movies, Jenkins’ deal breaks a glass ceiling for women directors.”

It’s ridiculous; this deal should have been signed long ago, and it’s just more evidence of the fact that women don’t get an even shake in Hollywood, or elsewhere in the business world, for that matter. Why on earth should Patty Jenkins have had to fight so hard for what was clearly her due? They would have given this to J.J. Abrams or Zack Snyder (but thank God they didn’t) a loooooong time ago.

Gadot already is attached to the follow-up, which Warner Bros. will release on Dec. 13, 2019.

Disney’s New Streaming Service Adds Marvel, Star Wars

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Disney’s new streaming service will be the exclusive home of Star Wars and Marvel movies.

While this doesn’t really make me all that upset, since I’m certainly not the target audience for Disney, Marvel or Star Wars product – which is what it is – I’m astonished that everyone is surprised by this move. When Disney first announced their forthcoming split from Netflix, they assured all and sundry that they were simply going to concentrate on Disney brand product, and leave the Star Wars and Marvel Universe films for a later date.

I never believed this for a second. Now, Disney has formally announced it’s all going to roll out at once. As The Associated Press noted, in a widely syndicated story, “Disney is adding more firepower to its upcoming streaming service. Its Star Wars and Marvel comic-book movies will be included in the service, making it the only way to stream those movies on demand in the U.S. as part of a monthly subscription. (So, not on Netflix.)

A price hasn’t been announced yet. The service is expected to debut in late 2019 after Disney’s current deal with Netflix expires. Previously Disney announced the inclusion of just Disney and Pixar movies and Disney TV shows. Adding the Star Wars and Marvel movies could make the new service appealing to teenagers and adults, not just families with young children. The Marvel movies include the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises.

The service will also have original Disney movies, TV series and shorts. Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said thousands of TV episodes and hundreds of movies will be available, though shows from Disney’s ABC network aren’t coming to the service.”

But you know what? I bet the ABC TV content – because Disney owns ABC, ESPN, and a bunch of other stuff as well – will soon be added to the streaming service. Why not? They own it – and eventually, they’ll claim it for themselves on the web. And people will pay whatever Disney charges to get the service – it’s perhaps the only major studio that can pull off its own streaming channel, given the incredible depth of the company’s multi-genre library.

So, where does this leave Netflix? Not in the greatest shape in the world, I would think. The company itself is shrugging off the whole Disney exit scenario as just another business day, but whether you like Disney’s product or not, it’s not a happy day for Netflix – which will still get along just fine, I’m sure – they have such a global imprint – but now without Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, and whatever else Disney decides to put on their streaming service. It’s got to to hurt.

It’s another blow to cable, as well, as the whole motion picture and television business moves to streaming, and a blow to theatrical exhibition too – as well as to TV networks, though Disney is now in the delicate situation of not wanting to gut one of the three major networks – ABC – which it owns, and has a vested interest in seeing it survive. But the shift is inescapable – physical media is dead, streaming rules, and the Disney service is going to be a monster – and a great baby sitter for harried parents.

Disney has had a long history of using distributors, and then dumping them when they figure out how to do it themselves – in the 1930s and early 40s, they were distributed by the now-defunct RKO Radio Picture company – but they left that arrangement to form Buena Vista, their own theatrical arm. Then Disney moved into television, one of the first major studios to do so – “we can use this” Disney is reported to have said – making their back catalogue available to home viewers. Now, they’ve used Netflix to get the lay of the land in the digital world, and learned what they need to know. So they’re moving on alone – and taking a lot of business with them.

It’s all going to the web, folks – every last moving image in existence.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Here’s a really exemplary group of honorees, all deserving of accolades.

As Kristopher Tapley notes in Variety, the latest group of honorary Oscar honorees are – at last – a diverse group. As Tapley writes, “this year’s crop of honorary Oscar recipients, scheduled to be feted at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Governors Awards ceremony on Nov. 11, represents ‘the broad spectrum of what we aspire to do with these awards,’ newly minted Academy president John Bailey says. ‘It’s really fascinating to see the breadth of the four honorees and just how different their careers have been.’

Set for recognition are writer-director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep with Anger), cinematographer Owen Roizman (The French Connection, The Exorcist), actor Donald Sutherland (MASH, Ordinary People), and director Agnès Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, The Beaches of Agnes).

It’s the first slate of Governors Awards honorees under Bailey’s watch, after the cinematographer won the reins of the Academy at the organization’s most recent election just under a month ago. However, Bailey notes that he was ‘totally agnostic’ in the selections, so it’s just a happy coincidence that a fellow cinematographer got the call this year.

‘I’ve known Owen for 35 years or so and he was a president of the [American Society of Cinematographers],’ Bailey says. ‘I never actually worked with him but I certainly have always been incredibly moved by the commitment he’s had to his work and the variety of work that he’s done.’

Bailey has been an outspoken supporter of Varda’s in his time as an Academy governor. As recently as Thursday afternoon, just before departing for the Telluride Film Festival (where Varda’s latest film Faces Places screened), he was speaking with passion about how overlooked she has been throughout her career, particularly as a driving inspiration for the French New Wave movement. Varda’s name has been in the mix for honorary Oscar recognition in the past.

‘We have people who might be under consideration one year, but then their strongest advocates support them the next year and they pick up new ones,’ Bailey says. ‘The two Lauras [Dern and Karpman] were very supportive of [Varda]. It’s so wonderful that dynamic women governors spoke on her behalf.’

Speaking of being overlooked, Burnett knows something about that. Widely respected among filmmakers and cinephiles, he and his work have never quite penetrated the popular discourse. He received a career’s worth of notice 10 years ago, however, when his 1978 film Killer of Sheep finally saw release. ‘There are a number of filmmakers that, in terms of the media and in terms of the so-called studio mainstream, are kind of off the radar,’ Bailey says. ‘But for filmmakers, they are inspiring and committed people.’

And it’s pure happenstance, Bailey points out, that Burnett is set for a sold-out film scholars lecture at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater Thursday night. The event will consist of a talk by Indiana University’s James Naremore pegged to his forthcoming book Charles Burnett: A Cinema of Symbolic Knowledge, followed by a screening of Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger.

But of course, Sutherland makes for the splashiest of the honorees this year, or at least the one most outside the industry will recognize. The most arresting stat to mention here, however, is that despite a body of work that amasses more than 100 features, Sutherland has never received an Oscar nomination.

‘I’ve known Donald going back before Ordinary People and I remember when the nominations came out, I was stunned then, as I have been multiple times,’ Bailey says. ‘But we all know the Oscar nominations are a result of many different factors. [The Governors Awards are] not like the Oscar nominations, where there is a lot of promotion and broad-based cultural support and advocacy. This is purely something that is internal with the Board of Governors, and there’s something about actually being given an award by your peers, rather than the industry at large, that is, to me, incredibly moving.’

It’s especially nice to see Varda, the true pioneer of the New Wave, and Burnett, one of the most unrelentingly individual filmmakers in recent memeory, get such recognition. Varda has long since outstripped the work of her contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who in the 1960s were the stars of the movement, moving smoothly from film to digital video. And Burnett has created a truly one-of-a-kind body of work under exceedingly difficult circumstances, offering audiences a deeply personal vision that encompasses all of life.

The Award ceremony will take place on November 11, 2018.

Richard Fleischer’s “Bodyguard” (1948)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Here’s a great little film noir, recently released to DVD – check it out.

Since I seem to be in a noir mood today, I’ll follow up my entry on The Big Clock with this neat little programmer from 1948, which I blogged about some time back on the website Film Noir of The Week, ably edited by Steve Eifert.

As I wrote for NOTW, “Lawrence Tierney (whose brother was the equally tough actor Scott Brady) pushes his way through Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard (1948) with the same brutal assurance he brought to such films as Max Nosseck’s Dillinger (1945), in which he played the title role of the notorious gangster with eerie intensity, and his finest film, Robert Wise’s Born to Kill (1947). But then again, in all his roles, Tierney was really channeling his real life persona of a rabble rousing hellion, who seemed absolutely incapable of staying out of trouble. Tierney is one of the cinema’s unique characters, indelibly identified with violent roles, and in real life, just as much of a loose cannon as he was on the screen.

Bodyguard is a distinctly down-market affair, with a running time of a mere 62 minutes, and was produced by RKO’s B unit, but it still packs a punch; in many ways, the noirs that Richard Fleischer directed for RKO in the first days of his career, such as Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and The Narrow Margin (1952) are his best work, certainly worthy of more attention than Fantastic Voyage (1966) or Doctor Dolittle (1967), which typified the big budget films that dominated the bulk of Fleischer’s career.

Here, working from a script by Fred Niblo Jr. and Harry Essex, from a story by George W. George and Robert Altman (yes, that Robert Altman), Fleischer tells the tale of tough guy cop Mike Carter (Tierney), who is pushed off the force for cutting corners with little things like search warrants and beating up suspects to get a confession out of them, much to the delight of his immediate superior Lieutenant Borden (Frank Fenton).

Fleischer stages the confrontation between Carter and Borden in a series of increasingly tight close-ups, in which each man gradually walks towards the camera, cutting back and forth, until both faces dominate the frame with overpowering intensity. The literal face-off ends when Carter abrupt punches Borden in the nose, and is kicked off the force for good.

In his spare time, Mike looks after (in an odd sort of way) a group of young toughs as a sort of Big Brother, and the film quickly moves to a baseball game, where Mike has treated the kids to a doubleheader in the company of his girlfriend, Doris Brewster (Priscilla Lane, in her final screen performance).

No sooner does Mike take his seat, however, than the slimy Freddie Dysen (Phillip Reed at his most disagreeable) slips in beside him, and offers him a job as bodyguard to one “Gene” Dysen, the owner of a meatpacking plant who has been receiving death threats. Despite a generous retainer, Mike turns the job down, but Freddie persists, and when Mike discovers that “Gene” Dysen is in reality Eugenia Dysen (Elisabeth Risdon, coolly professional as always), and there is another attempt on Eugenia’s life, Mike reluctantly accepts the position.

What follows is a typically violent 1940s noir, with Tierney walking through the role with his customary forthright arrogance – “one side, Dracula” he barks at Eugenia’s startled butler when first entering the Dysen mansion – and Lane offering capable support as his long suffering girlfriend. Naturally, there’s a murder, and Mike is implicated, and just as predictably, has to clear himself despite police interference.

I don’t want to give the plot away, except to note that lurking behind the entire affair is the profit motive – capitalism turned to murder – and Fleischer effectively limns the dark side of post war Los Angeles with deft assurance, ably assisted by the cinematography of Robert De Grasse, and Elmo Williams’ editing.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, and see the trailer by clicking here; while you’re at it, why not check out the entire Film Noir of the Week website by clicking here, for a nearly encyclopedic series of entries on some of the most effective – and often overlooked – noirs of all time. It’s nice that Bodyguard is on DVD; many of these films never made the jump to that format. Get it while you can!

A remarkably tight and effective little film; well worth an hour of your time.

John Farrow’s “The Big Clock” (1948)

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Charles Laughton and Ray Milland in the superb 1948 film noir, The Big Clock.

As Joseph D’Onofrio writes perceptively on the TCM website, “In The Big Clock, George Stroud, (Ray Milland) the editor of Crimeways magazine has been given the task of solving a murder before his own staff finds evidence that will point to him as the killer. As he races to find the real murderer, Milland discovers that his search has led him to his magazine’s corporate headquarters. Located in a massive tower within the cold confines of those headquarters, the big clock seems to dominate everything. Even when Milland hides in a room just behind the clock, it’s as if he’s trapped inside a box of time within other boxes, one onto the other. All of them enclosed in the labyrinthian corridors of the imposing, futuristic-looking Janoth building. Time is the real enemy in The Big Clock. Even the murder weapon, a sundial, reinforces this notion.

The Big Clock is directed by John Farrow in an elegantly understated style, described by Simon Callow in his book, Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor, as ‘nearly’ noir. As Callow puts it, ‘The play of shadows is handled in a masterly way, while the plot with its inversions and convolutions, presents an image of nightmarish reversals.’ Callow also speculates that Charles Laughton, as Earl Janoth, the owner of a publishing empire, seemed to be intentionally ‘drawing attention to the robotic heartlessness of big business.’ Janoth’s right hand man, Steve Hagen, is superbly played by veteran heavy George Macready, while Harry Morgan, in a very early role, appears as Janoth’s bodyguard, Bill Womack, without saying one word in the film.

Just after World War Two, Americans were witnessing the building of corporate giants, and the complications that come from such growth and progress. As much as The Big Clock is an entertaining thriller, it also seems to be an attempt to come to grips with that loss of identity within the corporate milieu. Workers, now faced with more powerful corporate heads in the new streamlined workplace, could relate to Laughton’s cunning portrayal of what Callow called, ‘a Napoleon of print.’

Farrow’s camera follows Laughton closely. It captures his nervous tics and twitches as he rules his employees with a fierce adherence to the adage that time does, indeed, equal money. A perfect example of this occurs when Laughton gives an order to an underling: ‘There’s a bulb that’s been burning for several days in a closet on the fourth floor to no apparent purpose. Find out who’s responsible; dock his pay.’ As Callow puts it, ‘The performance is a technical tour-de-force of high-speed throwaway, comic and powerful at the same time. We know everything about what he (Janoth) is, and how he works – like a clock, as it happens, the image that dominates and unifies the whole film.’

But it was Ray Milland who received top billing in The Big Clock, a rather ironic turn of events considering that Laughton once helped Milland as a struggling young actor in a supporting role in Payment Deferred (1932). If anything was made of this Hollywood twist of fate, it doesn’t show in the final product. The two men work well together and Milland is, as always, the consummate professional. We feel his confusion and anxiety as a man who misses a train and has a fateful, soon-to-be disastrous meeting which leaves him a man on the run, desperate to clear himself of murder.

When Milland won the Oscar for his gritty portrayal of an alcoholic in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945), he began to take on less glamorous, more challenging roles. In movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954), for example, he comes full circle, playing a jaded sophisticate and man-about-town who plots his wife’s murder. The Big Clock came at a transitional point in Milland’s career, offering him a role that falls somewhere between the elegant leading man of his earlier period and the more cynical and corrupt characters he later essayed.”

See the trailer for the film, featuring on-screen narrator Art Gilmore, by clicking here.

Patty Jenkins in Final Talks to Direct Wonder Woman 2

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

Patty Jenkins is closing a deal to direct Wonder Woman 2 – but what’s taking so long?

As Anita Busch and Anthony D’Alessandro reported on August 17th in Deadline Hollywood (or Deadline for short, if you prefer – perhaps the industry’s most reliable trade journal, and usually first with the facts), “it’s been over two months since Wonder Woman opened to a staggering $103.2M and went on to gross close to $800M worldwide for Warner Bros. (with Japan yet to bow). The movie, directed by Patty Jenkins, not only re-invigorated DC movies and the studio itself, but became a symbol of strength for women across the country. Now Jenkins is returning to the director’s chair to helm the second film in the franchise that she was so instrumental in starting.

Last month at Comic-Con, the studio confirmed both a sequel with Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot and a release date of Dec. 13, 2019. However, curiously, there was no deal with Jenkins. Why the delay? Because Jenkins — who was lauded repeatedly during the Women in Film Crystal Awards this year by several of its nominees — expects to be paid substantially more and the same as a male director would receive after such a box office coup. That desire was seconds away from becoming a reality on Thursday evening as a deal was being finalized which would elevate her as the highest-paid female director in town.

And why not? Wonder Woman shattered several glass ceilings at the box office, including the best opening ever for a title by a female director and the best global haul for a live-action film directed by a woman as well as the third-highest grossing film in Warner Bros.’ history (behind only Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series). Although no payday was revealed, we understand that her payday and deal is in line with any other director who has performed at this level. A studio source said they were ‘confident the deal will be reached soon.’

Typically, according to sources, a frosh director on a comic book movie gets $1.5M to $3M, while a director in the realm of Zack Snyder (who is helming DC’s Justice League) received $10M against 10% cash break even for his second DC film Man of Steel. (That’s usually paid out as 20% during pre-production, 60% during production, 10% during post and 10% following).

Jenkins burst on the scene with the critically acclaimed indie film Monster in 2003 — she wrote and directed while Charlize Theron won [the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film] — then directed a number of TV episodes for such shows as Entourage and The Killing before she was hired on for Wonder Woman.”

But now it’s Saturday night, and there’s still no word if this is happening.

I’m not really a comic book movie fan, but that’s hardly the point: Wonder Woman was a groundbreaking entry in the comic book movie universe, and Jenkins’ direction was solidly effective, especially in the opening thirty minutes of the film, and the kick-ass action scenes throughout. She also imbued the characters in the film with a sense of depth and realism missing in nearly all other comic book films, where one character after another is shuffled on and off the screen solely to advance the narrative.

There’s no doubt that if Jenkins were male, after the smash success of Monster, she would have directed a stack of films by now, and not have been relegated to the second-tier world of series television. Michelle McLaren was originally slated to direct, but left over the usual creative differences, so Jenkins was the second choice, but she more than delivered the goods, and she’s busy cooking up ideas for the sequel. And indeed, in contrast to the endless bombast of Zack Snyder’s films, Wonder Woman was a genuine relief this summer.

But here she is – still just trying to get paid precisely what she’s worth. Ever sadder are the comments that follow the story in Deadline; while many are supportive, some are openly sexist, asking why a man shouldn’t take over the job. Good grief! Are we still stuck in the 1950s? Or the 1900s? Hollywood is a bottom line business, and if you deliver the goods – as Patty Jenkins did – you should get paid for it, and not have to haggle with studio bosses for an equitable paycheck.

Let’s hope this is resolved soon, with Jenkins victorious in her quest.

See All The Movies You Want For $10 A Month?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Under a new proposal, you could pay $10 a month, and see a new movie every day.

As Isabel Gottlieb reports in Bloomberg News, under a new scheme proposed by one of the co-founders of Netflix, you could go to the movies every day for a month for just $10. Sound impossible? Maybe it is – but “as movie theaters struggle with tepid sales, Mitch Lowe has an extreme proposal for how to get more people into seats: Let them come to all the showings they want for about the price of a single ticket each month.

Lowe, an early Netflix Inc. executive who now runs a startup called MoviePass, plans to drop the price of the company’s movie ticket subscriptions on Tuesday to $9.95. The fee will let customers get in to one showing every day at any theater in the U.S. that accepts debit cards. MoviePass will pay theaters the full price of each ticket used by subscribers, excluding 3D or Imax screens.

MoviePass could lose a lot of money subsidizing people’s movie habits. So the company also raised cash on Tuesday by selling a majority stake to Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc., a small, publicly traded data firm in New York. The companies declined to comment on terms of the financing but said MoviePass intends to hold an initial public offering by March. Helios and Metheson shares rose 5.7 percent to $2.95 at the close Tuesday in New York.

Ted Farnsworth, chief executive officer at Helios and Matheson, said the goal is to amass a large base of customers and collect data on viewing behaviors. That information could then be used to eventually target advertisements or other marketing materials to subscribers. ‘It’s no different than Facebook or Google,’ Farnsworth said. ‘The more we understand our fans, the more we can target them. . . .’

Lowe, a fixture of the home video business who helped get Netflix off the ground and served as president of rental-kiosk operator Redbox, was named CEO last year. The privately held company declined to disclose subscriber numbers or financial information. Lowe said the data-based business model is still ‘years in the future.’

With the new strategy, MoviePass hopes to resolve what Lowe sees as the biggest factor to blame for the theater industry’s decline. He said the high price of tickets, not competition from Netflix or Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video service, is a big part of what’s keeping people away.” Could it work? Well, I know that one of the factors impacting theater going is the price, and I think it’s true that –

“People really do want to go more often,” Lowe said. “They just don’t like the transaction.”

Best Story Ever – Robert Forster – “Don’t Quit”

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Robert Forster is an excellent actor – but at one point, things looked bleak.

As he points out in the brief interview above, Robert Forster has been an actor working in Los Angeles for nearly 50 years – and he’s still hitting it out of the park. But there was a time in the 80s and 90s when the work wasn’t coming – connections dried up, he was getting lousy parts by his own admission, but he kept going at it everyday to see what he could do to turn things around.

As he tells it, he was sitting in his usual breakfast spot when Quentin Tarantino strolled in for some food. Forster had tried out for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs years before – and thought he killed at the audition – but he didn’t get the part. But rather than being bitter, when Tarantino walked in, Forster hailed him as a friend, called him over, and they started chatting.

The end result; he got one of the leading roles in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, which jump started his whole career again, and led to roles, in among other things, a little television show called Breaking Bad, to say nothing of his recurring role in David Lynch‘s reboot of Twin Peaks. As he put it, the whole thing came about because of three rules he follows:

*Accept all things; that gives you a good attitude;

*Deliver excellence right now; that gives you the best shot at the best future you’ve got coming;

*And never quit; you can win it in the late innings if you don’t quit.

Words to live by; and they certainly work for him!

Movie Theaters’ $1.3 Billion Stock Collapse

Friday, August 4th, 2017

2017 hasn’t been that great for movie box office figures – what does the future hold?

As Anousha Sakoui and Emma Orr report on the Bloomberg News website, “Hope is fading for a feel-good ending at the U.S. box office. After several months of flops like Warner Bros.’ King Arthur and EuropaCorp’s Valerian, movie studios and theaters are beginning to acknowledge that their streak of record-setting ticket sales may be coming to an end. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the world’s biggest cinema chain, laid out a worse-than-projected outlook for the North American box office this week.

That announcement dragged down shares of theater stocks, wiping out $1.3 billion from the value of the top four cinema operators in North America since Aug. 1. Even with a new Star Wars, a Marvel superhero movie and the sequel to Blade Runner on the docket for the holiday season, the box office is unlikely to make up for a ‘severe hit’ in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. To date, receipts are down 2 percent in 2017, and AMC is projecting a 1.5 percent decline for the full year.

The concern is that the slump isn’t just a run of bad luck. Cinema operators have managed for years to keep increasing sales by raising ticket prices amid stagnant attendance, but a sharp drop in film going would make that harder to sustain. And the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers. Movies featuring once-reliable draws Jack Sparrow, the Transformers and the Mummy did poorly in the U.S.

Meanwhile, competition is heating up. Netflix Inc. and other digital distributors are creating more original movies, and consumers have more demands on their attention than ever, from Snapchat to YouTube. Further exacerbating the trend, studios are expected to push for a new premium video-on-demand window this year.

It’s possible that Hollywood could reverse the trend next year, when a new movie about Han Solo, an Avengers film, and sequels to Deadpool and Jurassic World are scheduled. ‘This is very typical of the movie business,’ said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘You could make the argument that the slate for next year looks really good, which should grow the market next year in North America. That part’s a cyclical thing, and it’s likely to come back.’

And movie-theater operators Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Imax Corp. aren’t facing the same level of pressure as AMC, which is carrying almost $5 billion in debt after expanding its empire to Europe, with acquisitions in the U.K. and Sweden.

Controlled by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group Co., AMC has become the poster child for China’s incursion into Hollywood. Concern that Dalian Wanda’s international investments may wane is adding to AMC’s troubles. ‘With China cracking down on funding for AMC’s majority shareholder, Dalian Wanda, the cinema chain faces murky prospects given its high debt level and appetite for global M&A,’ wrote Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.”

Now, it could be that we’re just going through a run of bad films – or it could be, as Sakoui and Orr note, that “the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers.” I’d argue it’s the latter, and though a new Star Wars or Marvel film may come along that rocks the box office, eventually this is a formula that’s bound to collapse. The figures above show it – theatrical box office is steadily going down.

But then again, what are the theaters to do? Audiences have been force fed junk for so long that they no longer know what a more thoughtful, challenging film looks like – they wouldn’t know how to approach anything that doesn’t have three act plot format, cardboard cutout characters, and a massive dose of CGI. Can you imagine if Ingmar Bergman’s Persona were released theatrically today? Or Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (which incidentally, holds the record for the biggest box office success for any foreign subtitled film to this day, adjusted for inflation)?

No one would come. Contemporary audiences only want genre films, franchise films, spectacle films, and superhero/heroine films. That’s it. And furthermore, theaters are locked into multi-year contracts stretching into the next decade for upcoming films from Marvel, DC, Disney, Lucasfilm (bearing in mind that Marvel and Lucasfilm are part of Disney) so they have to run their films no matter what.  What are theater owners to do? They could convert their auditoriums into gigantic videogame parlors, with multiplayer games on the screen, but that, too, would eventually fade.

The future is online. The future is streaming. The future is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and similar companies. The future is people sitting in their living room watching web series, or feature films, on their 50″ plasma, streaming from the web, or cable – if they still live in the dark ages – but the future is not in movie theaters. It costs too much to go out, the prices at the concession stand are out of control (it’s really the only way the multiplexes can make any money), and furthermore, in today’s violent society, theaters are simply not safe. And with Amazon and Netflix making their own features, distributed through their own online network, who needs movie theaters?

The outlook for theatrical exhibition is grim indeed – what can turn it around?

New Article – “Synthetic Cinema” in QRFV

Friday, July 7th, 2017

I have a new article out today on the rise of “synthetic” cinema in QRFV.

Above, Mark Ruffalo in what he all too accurately terms the “man cancelling suit” for his role as The Hulk in yet another Marvel comic book movie; this is just the sort of thing I’m talking about in this article – films that are so far removed from the real that there’s no human agency left in them.

As I write, in part, in the article, “there’s a force at work that has pushed mainstream cinema almost entirely into the fantasy franchise zone; the DC, Marvel, and now Universal Dark Universe films, comic book movies that rely almost entirely on special effects for that added ‘wow’ factor, often shot or reprocessed into 3-D, almost entirely lacking in plot, characterization, depth, or innovation – films that have no connection to the real world at all. I’ve [recently] published a book, A Brief History of Comic Book Movies, co-written with comic book historian Richard Graham on the history of the comic book movie, and for me, it was by far the most difficult project I’ve ever worked on, because as Gertrude Stein famously put it in another context, in comic book movies, ‘there’s no there there.’

There’s nothing remotely real here, or even authentic, and absolutely nothing is at stake. There are meaningless titanic battles, but the outcome is always predestined – the major characters will live until they have outlived fan base demand, and then they’ll ‘die’ – only to be resurrected in a reboot after sufficient time has passed. Most pressingly, nothing really happens in a comic book film despite the constant bombast, the endless ‘shared universe’ team-ups, and the inevitably angst ridden backstories that most superheroes and heroines are provided with today – a trend started in the early 1960s in Marvel comics, whose protagonists had a seemingly human, sympathetic edge, as opposed to the square jawed certainty of DC’s Superman and Batman.

There’s no real progression here, just repetition, for as Marvel head Stan Lee has famously stated, ‘fans don’t want change; they want the illusion of change.’ And that’s what they get – a film that starts off with things in a pattern of stasis, disrupted by an artificial crisis, which amid much hand wringing and supposed character development is brought to some sort of conclusion in the final reel of the film, but with a trapdoor always – always – left open for a possible sequel, because what Hollywood wants more than anything else in 2017 is a film that can turn into a long running, reliable franchise, as witness the long string of the ultra-comic book action films in the Fast and Furious series. This is the central issue that is facing the cinema today.”

You can read the entire article here – behind a paywall. But it’s worth it!

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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