Posts Tagged ‘movies’

On Going to the Movies, or Not

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

By Bob Gaydos

Poster for Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic.

Poster for Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic.

I’m about a half hour into “The Irishman” — the part where Robert DeNiro throws a gun off a bridge in Philly. I don’t consider this a spoiler alert because, after all, it’s DeNiro in a Martin Scorsese film and you have to figure it’s gotta happen sooner or later. Anyway, I decided to take a break to write, because you can do that while watching movies these days.

So, obviously, I’m watching at home on Netflix and not at a movie theater because apparently nobody does that anymore. Well, maybe not as much. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do know there are fewer movie theaters than there used to be and people are not going out to the movies as often as they used to.

White Hutchison, a company that tracks attendance at out-of-home entertainment venues, says the average person went out to the movies 3.5 times in 2018, spending a little over $30 for tickets. That’s a 28 percent decrease from the industry’s high of 5.2 trips by your average moviegoer to the cinema in 2002, the company says.

White Hutchison also says the downward trend is the result of all the other new entertainment venues competing to try to lure people off the convenience and comfort of their couches. The competition has convinced many moviemakers that only blockbuster-type “event” movies can do this and, again, the figures bear this out. The 10 biggest grossing movies of 2018 accounted for a third of all ticket sales and eight of those movies were offered in 3D and all 10 at IMAX theaters. And no, as opposed to the word I used referring to “The Irishman,” there’s not a “film” among them. They’re stories jazzed up with lots of special effects, action and/or cartoon characters.

I started wondering about the state of cinema-going when I read that Netflix was making a blockbuster movie with Scorsese, DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, but was forgoing the usual 90-day window given to let theaters show the movie before offering it to Netflix subscribers, mostly streaming rather than DVD’s now. Instead, the movie would get limited release in select theaters and be available on your phone or tablet or smart TV in 30 days.

Wouldn’t theater owners be ticked off? I wondered. Yes, they would and are. Then again, Scorsese made the film 3½ hours long, which is tough to sit through without intermission, popcorn refill and bathroom breaks. Also, most theaters can only show it twice a day because of the length, cutting into potential profits.

Nonetheless, Netflix went through with this plan and “the Irishman” opened initially on eight screens in New York and Los Angeles. More were added a week later. It had good ticket sales and mixed reviews in select theaters. But it drew about 17 million smaller-screen viewers in its first week of release on Netflix.

What’s the point? I’m not sure, but this was certainly an “event” film because of the cast of characters in front of and behind the camera. Maybe that’s the point. What exactly do we mean by an “event” movie today? Forgive me here as I wander into a now-distant past to my introduction to movie-going. (It’s a long film. Let’s call this an early intermission.)

***

My mother loved to go to the movies. In Bayonne, N.J., where I grew up, there were six movie theaters in the 1940s and ‘50s. Not bad for a city of some 65,000. There was also lots of public transportation and the streets were safe to walk. If you wanted to see whatever movie was the latest hit, there was no problem. It was also cheap.

When I was old enough, my mom would sometimes take me along. She would also often buy whatever dish was for sale to continue to put together the full set. Gold leaf trim. I still have some pieces. For me — and my mom, I’m sure — going to the movies was an event, something to look forward to and enjoy a lot more than 3.5 times a year.

And star power? Here’s a sampling, in no particular order, of actors you could see on the big screen in the 1940s and 1950s: James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, Orson Welles, Gary Cooper, James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Audrey Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck. Grace Kelly, Yul Brynner, William Holden, Tony Curtis, Ingrid Bergman, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Debbie Reynolds, Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier, Robert Mitchum, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. (Don’t bother checking. I didn’t repeat anyone.)

When I reached my early teens and could go on my own or with friends (remember, the streets were safe to walk then), I looked forward to Saturday matinees. It usually included two westerns (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, John Wayne), at least six cartoons and a serial (“Flash Gordon” or “Don Winslow of the Navy”). For a quarter. Popcorn was extra. Now, that was an almost weekly event.

Times have changed. Television ended Hollywood’s Golden Age. Smart phones, etc. are killing television. The streets aren’t safe. Popcorn at the movies is a budget-buster.

But also, while you can watch football on a phone today, you cannot see someone “act.” There is an added dimension when you share an emotional moment in a movie with a theater full of strangers that is missing on your couch. While they have connected us as never before, in some ways smart phones have also made us more isolated. As for the movies themselves, rewriting comic books for the big screen can only go as far as the characters (Batman, for example) allow. And, though spectacular visual effects may be big box office, they can’t replace the feeling of watching a grownup story portrayed by talented actors.

Which kind of brings me back to “The Irishman.” I’m hoping Netflix and Scorsese are right, in the sense that you can still make story and actor-driven (male and female) movies and make money today. (I can enjoy, but have a limited quota for whiz-bang and fantasy.) The head of Netflix’s movie division says to relax. “If everyone would just be calm and talk through it, over the next few years we’ll be able to find the right answer for everyone,” Scott Stuber said recently.

OK, so I’m going back to the movie. Still waiting for Pacino to arrive on the scene. If you’ve seen it, don’t text me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Losing the Movies

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Every so often, a bunch of us convene to watch a movie at someone’s house, have dessert, and talk about the movie. This leads to talk about other movies.

And that often leads to statements such as:

The movie about whaddea-call-it? The one with what’s-his-name, Tom, Brad, something. George? Maybe George. Whatever the hell his name was. You know, that movie from – what was it? Last year, maybe ’11 – about the guy with the store. I heard it was terrific; maybe we should rent it. If I could just come up with the name.*

Everybody seems to have his own special area of forgetfulness: Birthdays and anniversaries are classic. Faces are popular. And there are a million other facts known to everyone except the person trying to remember.

My special area of forgetfulness is movies and their directors, their actors, their story lines. I don’t remember anything about movies anymore, and I’ve come to understand that it’s not all my fault. The responsibility lies with the inventors of the VCR and the DVD.

I remember when seeing a movie was a special event, such as my parents allowing me to go to the children’s Saturday matinee. Invariably the program included a Western or a war movie starring John Wayne, Jeff Chandler or Burt Lancaster. For me, this was just once a month because my mother thought that most movies were trash and not worth my time.

In high school, a movie was for an occasional Friday night or Saturday night date – still special. Even if you saw two movies a month – and I don’t think I saw that many – it was 100 a year. This seemed to be a number that allowed you to concentrate on – and remember – the film. It was a number your memory could handle. You could retain great images and great performances.

Everything changed with the advent of VCRs, video stores, DVDs, Netflix and public library collections of movies on disc. All of a sudden, it was movies on demand, a chance to see the classics you missed as a kid, the documentaries you never find at the local movie house, or some of the recent releases. All that, and an admission price that’s dirt cheap compared with tickets at the box office.

A number of years ago, my cable TV company and I parted company (an amusing story in itself but for another time). I never replaced it. So I didn’t have cable but I still had my TV set so I joined Netflix. Great deal. Early on, I rented “Animal Crackers” with the Brothers Marx, and “White Heat,” my favorite James Cagney movie of all time.

Soon, I realized I was watching movies all through the week. I went through the movies made from Charles Dickens’s stories. I think I ordered all the Astaire-Rogers movies. “On the Waterfront” several times. Lots of Bogart, lots of Ingmar Bergman. Some Marilyn. Some Garbo. Plenty of Bette Davis. “The Bicycle Thief” for the 10th time in my life.

I OD’d on movies and after a while the damage was done; my poor brain couldn’t take it all in. I would talk about movies and utter such profundity as “That movie [“Coming Home”] with Jane Fonda and whatsisname [Jon Voight] about her taking up with the paraplegic guy [Voight] while her husband Dustin Hoffman [uh, no, that would be Bruce Dern] is still in the war [Vietnam].”

This kind of babbling is the result of the facts of too many movies banging into one another in my consciousness. There’s just so much room in my brain to remember all there is to remember.

An example: Remember the scene in “Five Easy Pieces” in which Jack Nicholson is ordering lunch (or was it breakfast?) and tells the waitress what she can do with the chicken salad?

Was it chicken salad? Or was it tuna?

* * *

* The movie would be “High Fidelity,” released in 2000, with John Cusack playing the obsessive owner of a vinyl-record shop.

Two Bobs: Unconventional Movies

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

By Bob Gaydos

The two Bobs were back at their table in Dunkin’  Donuts after a two-week hiatus. Nothing much had changed. Republicans were still courting the rich, white, arrogant and dumb, white, delusional votes. Democrats were still tying to figure out how the guy who killed bin Laden and ended the recession was still having trouble connecting with some Americans. Did I mention he was black?

“So did you watch the Republican convention, last night?” writer Bob asked ketchup-dressing Bob. (An aside here: Writer Bob had carefully perused the menu and discovered, surrounded by muffins and donuts, an entry called “egg white flats.” It came as turkey, ham or veggie options. He tried the veggie, which turned out to be rather tasty. Some might regard this as a new development.)

“Nah, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Too depressing.”

“Me too. They had Ann Romney and Chris Christie as the main speakers. Can you think of two more glaring examples of over-indulgence? Christie was the keynote speaker — an overweight, arrogant, bully. This is what you stand for? OK, so I can’t write about that since I didn’t watch it. Well, I probably could, but I’d rather not. Seen any movies lately?’’

‘‘Yeah, my wife and I saw “Hope Springs,” with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Went with another couple.”

“And?’

“Well, I thought it was going to be a comedy about an older married couple trying to energize their dull life together.”

“That’s what the previews showed.”

“But it wasn’t really funny. They hadn’t had sex in four years and I found their struggles unfunny. I was disappointed. I mean, they had Steve Carrell play the therapist. He’s supposed to be funny.”

“I had a similar experience. Wanted to check out the Downing Theater in Newburgh. Never been there and heard nice things about it.”

“What did you see?”

“Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

“What?”

“‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ Read that it won a big prize at Sundance and it was a fantasy about a young girl called Hushpuppy going in search of her mother and encountering prehistoric creatures.”

“And …?”

“Well, there were creatures. Kind of prehistoric wild boars. But they really weren’t in much of the movie. And the girl — who was terrific, a six- or seven-year-old with great screen presence — doesn’t really search for her mother so much as accidentally finds her in a ‘dance hall.’

“Mostly, it was about a lot of drinking, alcoholism really, and people being content living on the water in squalor. Although when the storm came, freeing the beasts and flooding the people’s homes, they blew up a dam that protected their more successful neighbors who lived on land. Survival. But then, when they were rescued and safe, they had to escape. They went back to the water, following the girl, who unknowingly found the mother who had abandoned her and her drunken father. Then the beasts showed up, all big and huffy, and kneeled down to the little girl instead of eating her and her friends. She kind of represented the cohesiveness of nature, or something. It was full of symbolism … lots of symbolism.

“… I really have no f****n’ clue what the movie was about.

“But we liked the theater, so we’ll probably go back. And I’ll read reviews more carefully, or stick to writing about things that happen as advertised, like Republican conventions.”

bob@zestoforange.com