Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

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.


This ‘Campaign’ is No Laughing Matter

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

By Bob Gaydos

“You want to go see ‘The Campaign’?”

The caller was my 18-year-old, about-to-leave-for-college son, Zack. So I immediately said yes. These impromptu calls have become too infrequent lately. Zack, of course, loves anything Will Ferrell does. I think he’s a talented actor who constantly takes the easy path to the cheapest joke, the filthier the better, playing dumb to reach the lowest common denominator in his audience — teenaged boys. A classic underachiever. But I thought, what the heck, it’s timely. Maybe he’ll score some political points and I’ll get a few laughs.

Both things happened, but I came away from the movie with a strange sense of sadness. Ferrell did not disappoint. The jokes were crude, sexual and occasionally hilarious. But some of the best ones had been promoted for weeks on TV. (Why do they feel a need to do that?) Mostly, though, on leaving the theater, I realized that I had stopped laughing at some point because the heavy-handed attempt at satire was simply too close to the truth and this movie wasn’t going to change things one iota.

For one thing, teenaged boys don’t vote. For another, the country really is full of the kind fickle, dumb voters portrayed in the movie — people who swear their political allegiance based on phony image, phony religion phony patriotism, phony family values — and switch it just as easily based on phony claims spread with the money of very real filthy rich people who feel they are a country unto themselves, free to do as they please to whomever they please, so long as they can afford it.

And so Ferrell gives us the Motch Brothers, in the bloated persons of Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow. They decide to grab control of a North Carolina congressional district by bankrolling the ineffectual, clueless Zach Galifianakis to run against the incumbent, the philandering, dumb Ferrell. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, slim as it is. Suffice to say, the movie stereotypes of the real-life Koch brothers are ruthless to the core, using their wealth to try to buy a congressional district, and not caring which candidate can deliver that prize. Where’s the humor there? Like the dumb voters stereotyped, that’s the plain truth.

The movie candidates do and say stupid stuff until the end, which is all Hollywood happy, but not convincing. But the real-life candidates in this country do and say dumb stuff all the time, with no Hollywood ending. (Will the would-be senator from Missouri please shut his mouth and go home?) In Texas and Arizona they routinely get elected. The movie presents cardboard characters who could probably run and win somewhere real in America. That’s why the stereotypes, while comically exaggerated, also seem so familiar. We know these buffoons, these liars, these phonies. We vote for them (well, I don’t). We send them back to office because they tell us some cock and bull story and we never bother to call them on it. And if someone does pull their covers, we ignore it. It’s like a whole country addicted to BS. It makes us feel so good, if we hold our noses.

I guess I should have realized that Will Ferrell isn’t sophisticated enough to deliver the kind of satire needed to get people off the political BS crack pipe and I shouldn’t expect him to. And I have little faith in today’s traditional news media. I think more and more that the Internet and social media – also hugely popular with teenaged boys — represent the best hope for getting Americans, at least enough Americans, to recognize what is going on with our political system and make them want to change it.

Yes, there are a lot of liars and buffoons on the Internet, too, but they are being called out and drowned out regularly by voices of logic and reason and compassion. Young voices and old voices and middle aged voices. People who are sick and tired of the BS in American politics, much too sick and tired to think it’s funny anymore. (Did you hear what that idiot in Tennessee said about spreading AIDS?) Maybe Woody Allen could make it a laughing matter: Pass the popcorn. Woody really nailed these guys. But he only makes one movie a year and I can’t wait.

Yes, I realize I’ve been talking about myself here. I never used crack, but I’ve ingested enough political BS to last several lifetimes. Sorry, Will Ferrell, you’ll probably make millions trading on people‘s ignorance (much like the Motch brothers), but politics in America long ago ceased to be a laughing matter. It’s more like a cruel joke.

PS: But hey, Zack, don’t hesitate to call if you want to catch another movie. My treat.