So, we’re going to enter the dog days of summer after this weekend. Rush Hour 3 is the last major franchise, which is good for Chud-favorite Superbad and its chances of long-play. But what it means is that we’re about to get two sorts of films for the next couple of weeks: Films the studio doesn’t know how to sell or what do with, or pieces of shit looking to make a quick buck in a barren marketplace.
THE MOST INTERESTING FILM OF THE WEEK
Anecdotal evidence is easily dismissible, but much of my job doing this is putting my hand in the wheat field to sense what’s going to happen to the crops. I’m a diving rod, an Ouija board with some smallish evidence (that being tracking) to back me up.
So, I must wonder about the sensation of the film "found" on video. If you go back about ten years, you had films like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and you can see a film that did just okay theatrically. But on home video it was a sensation. I was working at a video store when it hit video and you literally couldn’t keep it on the shelves all the way through the release of The Spy Who Shagged Me. And then in 1999 you had a film like Office Space, which also became a huge after-the-fact hit, and it seeped into the public consciousness through video and cable to the point that everyone in an office setting knows what a TPS report is. Since then, it seems a lot of films that should have found their audience on home video have not. Super Troopers was one of the last, while it appears that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Shaun of the Dead blossomed on home video (for the latter, it was never a big release, coming as it did in late September and opening on 675 screens), but these successes are fewer and farther between.
Of course, something like Anchorman only expanded on home video, but the film was also a respectable success theatrically, just not the quotastic phemon it is today. But, I’d argue, video store culture is mostly passé with the rise of Netflix. And films that should have been bigger, like The Fountain and Brick (to name but two), have not achieved greater notoriety through home video. The system, the entire filmmaking industry has been moved into a smash and grab ideology, with nothing playing all that long (even something like the indie success of Waitress or Once). Twentieth Century Fox had to be told by Entertainment Weekly that Office Space was one of its best selling catalog titles.
As one of the great authors of the 20th century said "so it goes" and so I do not present this as anything more than an observation. The bad side is something like a Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon could never happen again, the good side is that something like a Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon could never happen again. Part of this is the internet, and not just bit torrenting. The reception of a film is processed so quickly that how people receive and understand a movie is now sometimes set in stone before it’s released, as backlash (as evinced by the Chud Boards) and contrarian stances (see Scott Foundas’s take on Brett Ratner) can now happen before a film is shown to the public. Especially with smaller quirkier titles, which need word of mouth to find their homes – if they are painted as bad, then they’re gone. And much like the Democrats reaction to the current administration, you can see the pained but inevitable sense of failure for some titles that even critics will comment on as it washes away. There is little rallying these days, and often that rallying is met with bored stares. But the audience is there, and will always be there if the word gets out.
And so it will go with Stardust, a perfectly fine film that should play like gangbusters to tweener and teenage girls and boys of all ages. Though the first act is a bit distended (there’s a lot of plotting to set up, some of which sets some things up so obviously I wished the filmmakers would acknowledge their existence to the audience so I didn’t feel ahead of the film), it is a film that deserves a better fate than the weekend it will face, and the scarlet F it will wear.
No one associated with it should take much of a hit, fortunately for someone like director Mathew Vaughn, and those who see it will likely enjoy it. I figure Vaughn’s role in this was similar to the semi-failure of Insomnia in that what Vaughn did was prove he could work on a much larger scale. But where The Princess Bride was a misfire theatrically, it has since blossomed into the film nearly every woman I’ve ever met (and most of the ones I’ve dated) think is just about the most perfect movie ever. It’s become such a cliche that The Princess Bride has become something of an in-joke when I’m talking to a girl I have no respect for and want to make myself laugh. Nothing against the film – it’s a fine film for what it is, and so is Stardust. But since films have no legs, and home video doesn’t seem to offer the rewards of years past, I wonder if it will get lost into the ether, or if it’s just that sometimes it takes a while for cult followings to kick in. Does Tivo help or hinder?
The thing that is frustrating about this is that films exist both in their moment and as a thing itself. United 93 will mean something completely different in ten years. To be appreciated films must be viewed in the context of their creation, but to enjoy them one only need sit down for a couple of hours. And appreciating films removed from their place in history is just as valid an approach if the context to which a film was judged can be proven incidental. Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows was dismissed as being sympathetic to the current French administration, when nothing could have been further from the film’s goals. It gets stickier if you want to suggest something like The Green Berets is a perfectly fine action/war film without understanding its propagandist roots. That’s not to say a film cannot be enjoyed for its aesthetic pleasures whilst acknowledging its ideological lackings or lunk-headedness (ie 300, Red Dawn). Films exist within their moment, but also exist as a thing for eternity (or as long as they’re preserved). And it’s the job of people like me to keep the word out for films like Miller’s Crossing (which was a dud theatrically) or in my case, Cemetery Man. Thankfully, that job, and that consciousness still pervades film culture to the extent that pop culture has forgotten about films like A Perfect Storm or The Patriot while the drum still beats for Memento and Battle Royale and In the Mood for Love.
My advice is to clutch those Bricks and Fountains and Shauns close to one’s heart and keep spreading the gospel. It is the duty of any real film lover to spread the word on films that were malnourished – for if you love film, there are few greater pleasures than turning someone on to the films you love.
THEY’VE DONE PREDICTION STUDIES, YOU KNOW. 60% OF THE TIME, IT WORKS EVERY TIME
Rush Hour 3 should take it home, but because Chris Tucker had no interest in being a film star, whatever audience he had that helped take Rush Hour 2 to $226 Million isn’t going to be coming back in such force. Tucker is an odd phenomenon himself, having literally walked away from stardom, only to come back for mega-sized Rush Hour paychecks. Could Tarantino get him back? Would people care? I think his decision is deserving of some respect in the sense that he could have cashed some easy paychecks ala Eddie Murphy, but it gives him that stink of many modern asshole athletes, that "I don’t give a shit about you" odor. Few entertainers entertain if they appear that ambivalent about actually performing for you, unless that’s their schtick. And it’s not as if his disappearance was to become better at what he was famous for – from all word he no longer has that spark that brought him into the hearts of audiences with his work in the first Friday (which was also a smash video hit).
The biggest thing working in the film’s favor is its appeal to a black audience that – up to this point – can only point to Tyresse’s supporting role in Transformers or Don Cheadle’s turn in Ocean’s 13 as the largest roles for a black actors in the summer sweepstakes (unless Shrek‘s Donkey counts). This has been an incredibly white summer, and I think people genuinely liked the first two Rush Hours, even if their pleasures were ephemeral. I’ve seen them both and can remember very little other than a cameo by Don Cheadle
Stardust, which if it’s lucky could get to fifteen but could go as low as eight – but I’m betting low. Not good. Part of me feels that Bourne could stake a chance at taking the top (and it should cross $100 Million Friday), but Tucker and Chan should have enough gumption to hold on to the top slot. Then there’s Daddy Day Camp and Skinwalkers, which will be lucky to crack the top ten.
So these are the breaks, break it up, break it up, breakdown:
1. Rush Hour 3 – $52.4 Million
2. The Bourne Ultimatum – – $37.6 Million
3. The Simpsons Movie – $13.3 Million
4. Stardust – $9.7 Million
5. Hairspray – $8 Mil
Sunday, I’ll try and sober up enough to say something coherent. No promises, though. I’m not your fucking dad.