2 Guns (#110 of 5)

Box Office Rap You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

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Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema
Box Office Rap: You’re Next and the Rise of Horror Cinema

This past week, Kyle Buchanan wrote an insightful, mostly spot-on piece for the Vulture about this summer's box-office, and the overall takeaway is that, because of the “belly-flops” incurred by several original titles, combined with the highly profitable success of numerous sequels and franchise entries, studios will only be driven to make bigger budgeted films, almost all of them sequels, leaving little to no room for any kind of original, non-franchise venture. While Buchanan's logic with regard to the summer tent pole is sound, there's one glaring omission from his article: the outstanding box-office performances of The Purge and The Conjuring, two original works, both horror films. Not only did they debut at number one, each blazed past a $30 million opening. Several high-profile films failed to achieve such an opening this summer, including After Earth, The Internship, This Is the End, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, 2 Guns, and Elysium. Furthermore, The Conjuring is on pace to have a higher domestic gross than The Wolverine! Compare The Conjuring's $20 million budget to The Wolverine's $120 million, and suddenly sequelitis seems an equally dangerous proposition for Hollywood.

Box Office Rap Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

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Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu
Box Office Rap: Kick-Ass 2 and the Hollywood Reporter Snafu

Neill Blomkamp's Elysium topped the box office this past weekend, though its lead over the competition ended up being less than anticipated. However, if one were following The Hollywood Reporter's coverage on Friday, that margin was said to be even less, as writer Pamela McClintock claimed that “strong matinee business” suggested Planes was headed for a $30 million weekend, which was set to match that of the Matt Damon actioner. The actual for Planes ended up in third place with $22.2 million, over 25% less than initially reported. More troubling than the inaccurate figures, which are understandable given the unpredictability of internal weekend multipliers and whatnot, is the article's headline, which claims that Planes's performance is “breaking [the] animation curse,” allegedly created from underwhelming box-office openings by Turbo and The Smurfs 2. An animation curse? It's hard to argue for any curse, given the almost $640 million made worldwide by Monsters University and the $745 million made worldwide by Despicable Me 2, the latter of which is second to only Iron Man 3 as the highest-grossing domestic release of 2013.

Locarno Film Festival 2013 2 Guns, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Exhibition, & Sense of Humor

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Locarno Film Festival 2013: 2 Guns, Chinatown, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Exhibition, The Mute, The Dirties, & Sense of Humor
Locarno Film Festival 2013: 2 Guns, Chinatown, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, Exhibition, The Mute, The Dirties, & Sense of Humor

Receiving its first public screening outside the U.S. at the 66th Locarno Film Festival, Baltasar Kormákur's 2 Guns capped the open-air opening ceremony with thunder roaring overhead. Summarising its director's career arc thus far (his debut feature 101 Reykjavik premiered here in 2000), this heady Hollywood buddy movie also demonstrated the festival's varied appeal. Diversity might be what every major festival aspires to, of course, but in Locarno this seems especially the case, offering as it does everything from the vertiginously tiered 270-seat PalaVideo theater to the even-surfaced 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, the open-air setup that takes over the city center for the duration of the festival.

While 2 Guns eventually fell victim to a vicious downpour, a pre-festival screening of Chinatown the previous evening had confirmed to this first-time attendee that size does indeed matter. Already familiar with Roman Polanski's neo-noir, I settled into travel-weary autopilot and sat there bedazzled by the film's imagery, which seemingly attained a renewed power as it played on Europe's biggest cinema screen. It was also the first time I had seen the film with an audience. The audible gasps at the “kitty cat” scene resonated throughout the square, and the collective mumble that greeted Faye Dunaway's “My sister! My daughter!” meltdown eerily prefigured the thunderstorm that marred the official ceremony the subsequent evening.

Box Office Rap Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

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Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam
Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard would undoubtedly be amused with the August traffic jam Hollywood has made for itself, as 14 wide releases will debut within the next four weeks. June 2013 saw just eight new releases, but even then, a mega-budgeted film such as Man of Steel only managed to stay in theaters for seven weeks, so the likelihood of any August films sticking around for longer than a month becomes a near impossibility. Has the summer market always been so saturated? Looking back to June 1993, seven major studio films saw wide releases, only one less than 2013. However, Jurassic Park played in theaters for 71 consecutive weeks. Even Last Action Hero, a film that brought a studio to its knees, lasted 12 weeks during that 1993 summer.

The casualties this summer have been numerous. Most notable is, perhaps, The Lone Ranger, a $215 million production that fell to just 553 theaters in its fifth weekend and is likely to be out of theaters by Friday by the time this week's four mega-wide releases drop. What's an onlooker to make of these developments? On the one hand, from a cultural capital perspective, these are dire days. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent, and spot-on, positive review of Gore Verbinski's film, in which he bets that, like Steven Spielberg's 1941, 20 years from now The Lone Ranger will be “re-evaluated” and discussed as “misunderstood.” Seitz's thoughtful and contemplative review shuns much of the mob-mentality demonstrated by the film's embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes score and reveals the underlying problem with such an adopted critical system: emphasis on scores and figures over ideas and commentary. Yet his perceptive insights are lost amid this contemporary climate because, in turn, the marketplace cannot hold such a product long enough to receive honest feedback and critique; the “critical consensus” passes immediate judgment on The Lone Ranger to expedite the film's financial (and cultural) execution. On the other hand, a neo-Marxist couldn't help but delight in Mouse House miscalculation, as the film appears unlikely to match its budget through even its worldwide haul, which currently stands at $175 million.

Box Office Rap 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

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Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity
Box Office Rap: 2 Guns and the Cycles of Popularity

When Martin Scorsese takes the time to write a critical piece on legitimating film culture disguised as a reflection on the language of cinema, not only do you read it, but you read it twice for good measure. That's precisely what happened this past week, as Scorsese joined Steven Soderbergh to deliver the second, excellent “state of cinema” address of 2013. Scorsese's prose is packed with an expected degree of passion, reverence, and Romanticism, such as when he lovingly calls cinema “the invocation of life…an ongoing dialogue with life,” and on that premise, he laments the decline of cinema associated with cinephilia, a lack of visual literacy being taught in schools, and the rise of box-office culture as “a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment,” where “the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, and the work that's been created out of seriousness and real passion is lumped together with the work that hasn't.”

To Scorsese's claims I say: absolutely. Box office is indeed used as a form of judgment to determine what films audiences are interested in seeing. Thus, studios act accordingly and try to replicate success through like-minded projects with stars that have a proven pedigree. Nevertheless, the cinema, as a form of popular culture has, more or less, always been a democratic medium, contingent on viewers showing up in support. I think of Mario Van Peebles's Baadasssss! when reading this argument; in that film, Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, whose new film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, is opening in a single Los Angeles theater. A dejected Melvin sits in the theater as no one fills the auditorium on opening night. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and people start flooding in. He's elated because people want to see his film.