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Insidious: Chapter 2 (#110 of 7)

Box Office Rap 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening

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Box Office Rap: 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening
Box Office Rap: 12 Years a Slave and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Oscar Screening

This week’s column was originally intended to discuss the box-office viability of Carrie, notable as both a remake of Brian De Palma’s classic and Kimberly Peirce’s first feature film since 2008’s Stop-Loss, but then I read Peirce calling Brian De Palma’s film “semicampy” in an otherwise fascinating and spot-on New York Times article, which rubbed me the wrong way. Moreover, giving more ink to yet another cash-in remake of an all-time great horror film would find us caught within the cogs of the Hollywood machine—something this column is actively opposed to.

A more pressing issue than Carrie’s potential box office has presented itself with 12 Years a Slave, opening in limited release this Friday (but even so, it stands a considerable chance at cracking the Top 10), though screened for the first time to Oscar voters on Sunday night. In an excellent, if depressing, Los Angeles Times recap from Glenn Whipp, AMPAS members couldn’t even fill the auditorium for Steve McQueen’s latest, even though the film has been riding a tidal wave of good reviews from festivals and is being called the Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture by many prominent prognosticators, such as Sasha Stone of Awards Daily. This comes after the previous weekend, where Academy members were turned away from a screening of Gravity, with the Samuel Goldwyn Theater packed to the brim, much like the rest of North American theaters.

Box Office Rap Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

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Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball
Box Office Rap: Machete Kills and the Gravity Wrecking Ball

In January of 1993, Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi screened at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and was picked up by Columbia Pictures. A month later, it was released in theaters, grossing over $2 million at the domestic box office, an anomaly for a film made for a mere $7,000. At the time a director with no formal training, Rodriguez served as a beacon for the independent spirit, even writing Rebel Without a Crew in 1996, a book recounting his initial success and subsequent collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. This week, Rodriguez’s Machete Kills opens in theaters, but the film reveals the filmmaker to be far removed from his independent and creative origins.

Rodriguez appears content to make sequels of his own hits: Machete Kills marks his sixth, and next year will bring a second installment in the Sin City franchise. Such practices are certainly not uncommon in Hollywood, nor were they uncommon to the exploitation cinema of the 1970s, which Rodriguez has clearly modeled so much of his work after. As Ian Olney explains in his recent book Euro Horror: Classic European Horror Cinema in Contemporary American Culture, Hollywood stole distribution tactics from B-film production studios, such as saturated openings, while also recognizing the viability of cheap sequels to accompany these methods, where films could make so much money in one weekend, as to become profitable, that whether or not audiences actually liked the film ended up being an afterthought.

Box Office Rap Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Gravity and the Art-House Blockbuster

When Contagion opened in IMAX theaters on September 9, 2011, only a handful of films had previously been offered in that large-scale presentation that weren’t either part of a franchise, an original film with hopes of becoming a franchise, a work based on another text, or a prominent remake a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. From 2002 to September 2011, a total of 77 wide release films made their way to IMAX screens. Of these, and excluding animated and concert films, only three films (Eagle Eye, Inception, and Sanctum) opened over that nine-year span that didn’t fit the above qualifications. Certainly, these anomalous entries can be explained by their potential box-office appeal, but only Inception had directorial (let’s say auteur) pedigree, which is where my interest lies. We shall call such films art-house blockbusters (AHB), in accordance with our established definition.

Box Office Rap Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

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Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September
Box Office Rap: Baggage Claim and the Lost Women of September

As the series finale of Breaking Bad nears, and with Walter White set to confront Todd, Uncle Jack, and (potentially) rescue Jesse Pinkman, Americans may pass the time this Friday by heading to the multiplex. Opening, and expected to take the weekend with ease, is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, though it’s unlikely that members of #teamwalt will be interested in that, unless they have kids of their own (“a scary thought”). No, they’ll most likely see one of the other three primary offerings, all with hyper-masculine protagonists. There’s Rush, director Ron Howard’s racing period piece. If not that, perhaps Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut about a guy from Joisey with a porn addiction. If neither of those strike a chord, there’s always the macho spectacle of Metallica: Through the Never, which bumps Dorothy and Toto from IMAX theaters on Friday.

Box Office Rap The Wizard of Oz and the IMAX Cancer

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Box Office Rap: The Wizard of Oz and the IMAX Cancer
Box Office Rap: The Wizard of Oz and the IMAX Cancer

“The last time I checked, I owned the films that we’re in the process of colorizing…I can do whatever I want with them, and if they’re going to be shown on television, they’re going to be in color.” These are words spoken by media mogul Ted Turner in 1986, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, defending his decision to colorize classic black-and-white films for television airwaves, most famously Casablanca, leading Roger Ebert to call its colorized airing “one of the saddest days in the history of movies.” That sadness, Ebert claimed, comes from knowing that even the most beloved classics aren’t safe from “computerized graffiti gangs.” Well, this weekend, The Wizard of Oz boots Riddick from IMAX theaters, coming at viewers not only in the format’s scale-oriented excesses, but also in 3D. Thus, though we may still refer to the film as The Wizard of Oz, Warner Bros. is going with The Wizard of Oz: An IMAX 3D Experience. So, a question becomes pertinent: How is turning a 1939 Technicolor film into a 2013 IMAX 3D “experience” any different from Ted Turner colorizing Casablanca?

Box Office Rap Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

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Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index
Box Office Rap: Insidious: Chapter 2 and the Twitter Index

I imagine that predicting box-office grosses on a weekly basis in a pre-social media, pre-Internet environment would not only have been difficult, but virtually impossible to register with any accuracy, unless said prognosticator held a position of some esteem within the film industry. Let’s give this pre-era a concrete date—say, roughly 1999. I choose this year not because of Y2K or the neat temporal markers brought about by a new millennium, but because that year introduced Brandon Grey’s website Box Office Mojo, which specializes not just in forums meant for box-office speak, but seeks to function as a comprehensive, online database for the domestic and international grosses of every film released in North American theaters within the modern era. Now, 14 years later, the site offers such information dating back to 1980, a year significant to film history for many reasons, though more because it’s a year that symbolizes the death of New Hollywood filmmaking and the full-on emergence of a blockbuster mentality within the studio system. The Empire Strikes Back was the highest-grossing film of the year; Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate was met with devastating financial and critical failure, to the extent that United Artists went bankrupt. Moreover, Peter Bogdanovich has suggested that contemporary film students possess no conception of film history prior to Raging Bull—also released in 1980.

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.