January 27, 2012

My Week with Marilyn- AMC Empire 25

Erica:We saw this movie at the AMC Empire 25, on what was a quiet movie day. That is until this idiot entered the theater. Him and his wife were confused from the start. I don't think they realized they were in a movie theater, with other people, and thought they were just sitting at home watching a movie on their giant television. This movie has a runtime of about an hour and a half. The idiot sitting two seats down from us decided to put his ringtone on the loudest possible volume so if it was to go off during the movie, he would hear it. Well guess what? About an hour in, the phone rang and he wasn't the only one that heard it, the whole theater did. He acted embarrassed, took out his phone, hit end, then proceeded to talk to his wife about and text and send e-mails for the remainder of the film. Then, the movie ended so I assumed I had seen and heard the end of him and his smartphone but then he shines the world's brightest flashlight right into my eyes and for about half an hour after that, I saw a light in front of my eyes. I really wanted to say something, but he took his time coming out of the theater so I didn't see him.

The movie was pretty good. Michelle Williams is fine as Marilyn, but her performance is nothing to write home about. Kenneth Branagh is superb as Sir Laurence Olivier. I think Branagh rightfully deserved the Oscar nomination he received more than Williams does but the academy works in mysterious ways sometimes. The story is based on a written recollection of Colin Clark, who worked as an employee of Olivier's on a production and was drawn to Marilyn, who at the time was married to Arthur Miller. Redmayne was annoying and this movie will appeal to those who are fans of Monroe and want to get a fabricated behind the scenes look at her world.

Mike: I have nothing against him, but I couldn't stand Eddie Redmayne in any of the movies I've seen him so far. Yet he was completely bearable here, front and center. Marilyn Monroe is really a supporting character. My Week with Marilyn is a sweet little film, even if I found the actual story a bit too trivial - he gets to work on a movie set, spends a little bit of time with Marilyn Monroe over a few days while she has a routine meltdown, and that's it. It provides a very interesting insight into Monroe's on-set behavior, and the excessive shepherding she received from her acting coaches and handlers. But Marilyn Monroe is such a complex, complicated person that it's impossible to get much about her out of a movie in which she's a supporting character. Ultimately, the film is a harmless way to spend an hour and a half and Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams give fine performances, making it well worth watching.

January 23, 2012

Oscar Nomination Predictions

Our Oscar Nomination predictions:

Best Actor
Mike predicts:
-George Clooney - The Descendants
-Leonardo DiCaprio - J. Edgar
-Jean Dujardin - The Artist
-Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
-Brad Pitt - Moneyball
Erica predicts:
George Clooney- The Descendants
Brad Pitt- Moneyball
Leonardo DiCaprio- J Edgar
Jean Dujardin- The Artist
 Michael Fassbender- Shame
 Best Actress
Mike predicts
-Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
-Viola Davis - The Help
-Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
-Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
-Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn
Erica predicts:
I predict the same exact thing as Mike. 
Supporting Actor
Mike predicts
-Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
-Albert Brooks - Drive
-Jonah Hill - Moneyball
-Christopher Plummer - Beginners
-Max Von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Erica predicts:
Christopher Plummer- Beginners
Albert Brooks- Drive
Kenneth Branagh- My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill- Moneyball
Ryan Gosling- The Ides of March
 Supporting Actress

Mike predicts

-Berenice Bejo - The Artist
-Jessica Chastain - The Help
-Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
-Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
-Octavia Spencer - The Help
Erica predicts
Berenice Bejo- The Artist
Octavia Spencer- The Help
Jessica Chastain- The Help
Janet McTeer- Albert Nobbs
Shalene Woodley- The Descendants (I don't actually think she will be nominated I just can't bring myself to think anyone will or deserves to be nominated from Bridesmaids)
 Best Director
Mike predicts
-Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
-Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
-Terrence Malick - Tree of Life
-Alexander Payne - The Descendants
-Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Erica predicts
Woody Allen- Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius- The Artist
Martin Scorsese- Hugo
Alexander Payne- The Descendants
George Clooney- The Ides of March
 Original Screenplay
Mike predicts
-The Artist
-Midnight in Paris
-A Separation
Erica predicts
The Artist
Midnight in Paris
Never saw A Separation and I refuse to write Bridesmaids so I am stopping at 3.  
Adapted Screenplay
Mike predicts
-The Descendants
-The Help
-War Horse
Erica agrees with Mike
Best Picture
I predict there will be 6:
-The Artist
-The Descendants
-Midnight in Paris
-Tree of Life
-War Horse
Erica predicts:
The Artist
The Descendants
Midnight in Paris
The Help
War Horse
Let's see who predicted correctly tomorrow morning. Then we can do our Oscar predictions. Erica has won the last 2 years :)

January 20, 2012

Scorsese directs KIA Hamsters?!

This is what happened recently at the Regal Union Square in NYC.

Enjoy and be glad you were not at this showing of Hugo

Ben Kingsley and the KIA Hamsters should work together more often....

January 09, 2012

The Iron Lady- AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13

Erica: On Friday, December 30th,  we went to the Lincoln Square 13 to check out the new Meryl Streep film, The Iron Lady. Soon I have to stop calling this the cursed theater because I have had a few showings in a row with nothing bad happening. This movie was playing in the Loews theater. That is our favorite one there because it has a balcony. You cannot beat sitting in the balcony in this theater. I got there fairly early so I grabbed a couple of seats and settled in.

I enjoy history, but was not super thrilled about seeing this one. I went because it was garnering award buzz for Streep. The movie was fine. It wasn't good but the second half seemed to drag on a bit. I do not think this film nor Streep is Oscarworthy but we need to wait another few weeks to find out if the academy agrees. 

Mike: The problem with Iron Lady is its second half. I liked the approach it takes - starting with an old Margaret Thatcher, suffering from Alzheimer's and flashing back to the past. Meryl Streep is excellent, especially playing present-day Thatcher, even under all that make-up. And seeing her rise to power is interesting. But once she becomes prime minister and the film focuses in large part on the Falklands War, it gets a lot less interesting. So while I liked the first half quite a bit, ultimately I was disappointed.

January 06, 2012

The Flowers of War- Landmark Sunshine

Mike: On Friday, December 23rd, I went to the Landmark Sunshine on Houston St. to catch an afternoon screening of The Flowers of War, the latest epic from Zhang Yimou set against the backdrop of the Rape of Nanjing, and China's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. It played at the Sunshine for a week to also qualify for Best Picture and other awards. It opened a week earlier in China, where it has become an absolute smash, already grossing over $80 million. It returns to US theaters soon, presumably.
As I entered the Sunshine, I felt as if Chinatown had shifted five blocks North. The lobby was filled with Chinese people, all waiting to get in to see The Flowers of War. Once in the auditorium, I think I was the only white guy there. I was surprised. To be honest, I was expecting a quarter-full room of in-the-know movie fans, like when I went to see Rampart there a few weeks before. When I bought my afternoon ticket, I noticed that the evening screening was sold out, which is pretty impressive considering the one week engagement was barely advertised. I wasn't aware then that the film was already such a big deal in China, so in retrospect it's no surprise that a lot of people from nearby Chinatown came out in full force. The crowd was courteous and quiet - the show went down without incident, but that's usually how things go at the Sunshine.
Christian Bale stars, adding some Western starpower and broadening its international appeal. While the film is China's Best Foreign Language submission, I wonder how much of the film is actually in Chinese (and Japanese, Mandarin... I think there were a few languages spoken). To me it seemed like it was about 60% English. I'm surprised it qualified.
The film is an admirable effort - a big budget, a big action star, a handful of battle scenes... very ambitious, and I think it will be a very satisfying film to many audiences. To me, it was enjoyable and interesting, but ultimately a letdown. It's a tad too long and way too sentimental. If War Horse or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was too hokey or schmaltzy for your tastes, steer clear. Christian Bale's character, a scoundrel mortician pretending to be a priest after trying to loot a church, has a handful of Brett Farve-like breakdowns that are out of place in an unsubtle attempt to add some tearjerking to the film. Bale has a strong leading man quality, but it's not exactly a great performance from him.

The always excellent Paul Schneider appears in the film for less than a minute, practically reduced to a cameo. I wonder if his role was initially more substantial. Oh, there's also a musical number too. A laughingly bad, embarrassing, and totally out of place musical number.


January 04, 2012

In the News: Naked Guy at Chipmunk Screening

 via Huffington Post: Edward L. Brown, Chicago Man, Allegedly Got Naked During 'Chipmunks' Matinee Screening

Read More:
NBC Chicago
CBS Chicago
Riverside-Brookfield Landmark

At least that Chipmunk audience of 86 had something entertaining to see.

2011 Box Office Revenues are Down. Here's One Reason Why.

2011 wasn't a great year at the North American box office, and many of the industry sites are explaining why. For a good take, check out Deadline's coverage here.
They provide some answers, but I think one major reason for declining box office keeps getting overlooked. Roger Ebert posted his own take outlining 6 points and singles out what Hollywood is completely ignoring. Here's the one I think is most interesting, and in my opinion something Hollywood and theaters aren't giving enough attention:
3. The theater experience. Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls. The annoyance of talkers has been joined by the plague of cell-phone users, whose bright screens are a distraction. Worse, some texting addicts get mad when told they can't use their cell phones. A theater is reportedly opening which will allow and even bless cell phone usage, although that may be an apocryphal story.
Revenue is down - and keeps going down - because of a handful of reasons that all tie together because the MOVIEGOING EXPERIENCE IS SHIT. It's often a hassle, a stressful ordeal, and we're paying more and more to go through it. That's the common denominator. But let's start at the very top. The most obvious reason, and the reason you're most likely to get if you were to ask someone why they don't go to the movie theater:

There's a lot of crappy product out there. There are plenty of great movies out there, but there's simply too much product (look at December 2011) and the good stuff is drowned out by drivel. By horror sequels, lame romantic comedies and kids movies based on old cartoons, whose advertising campaigns have to share the public's attention with the worthwhile stuff. And for big budget tentpole films, there's a strong reliance on formula that we're getting tired of.

As much as I think it's worse these days, it's always been like this. It's hard for the solid product to stand out, especially with so many alternative forms of entertainment available. So why go through the hassle of going to the theater when there isn't much that stands out and warrants leaving the house? Which brings us to:

Who wants to leave the house when we can watch a movie on our giant TV? Most families now have a big screen HDTV. Yes, the movie will look better in the theater, but the difference in audio/visual quality between seeing a movie in the theater and seeing a movie at home has been significantly reduced in recent years. The days of planting yourself in front of a little black box are over, and we get to watch our movies and TV shows in pristine quality right in the convenience of our own homes.

And who wants to leave the house and stand in line and deal with annoying people when the movie will be on DVD in three months. The home video window is smaller than ever. Tying in to the lack of product that truly stands out as 'must see now', why go through the hassle of seeing a movie at the theater when you can wait a few months and see it at home via Netflix or Video On Demand?

And who wants to leave the house when we have all kinds of other things to do nowadays? Our video games, our internets, our social networking...

Then there's 3D. The coolness factor of 3D has worn off. It's kind of passé. It's not the big deal it once was and most importantly, it's not worth the additional charge for an already expensive movie ticket. The coolness of 3D is now outweighed by the uncoolness of the surcharge. Moviegoers are feeling burned out, and for films that don't give the 'you-must-see-this-in-3D' vibe, the 2D presentations outsold many of the 3D screenings last year. An awful movie will still be awful in 3D, but the sting of dissatisfaction and wasted money that comes with a bad 3D movie will last longer.

Movie ticket prices are expensive enough as it is. In Manhattan it costs $13 to see a movie. Ticket prices keep going up just as our personal financial situations are getting worse. Matinee pricing is rare. Add the highly priced popcorn and soda and nachos and the other gross food products they sell at movie theaters, plus 3D, plus gas/parking/transportation, and a simple trip to the movies for a family of four now looks like eighty or a hundred dollars, if not more. There are plenty of people who still plunk down the money no-problem, even as they're going deeper and deeper in debt. Credit cards make it easy. But there are millions of struggling families who do exercise some responsibility and restraint, and to them the expensive movie tickets are an easy target for budget trimming. Instead, they can watch the same movie a few months later for four dollars or less.

All those reasons tie into what I believe is Hollywood's big elephant in the room. (Err, well, they don't really seem to be aware of it at all, so maybe scratch that analogy) It's something to which they're not paying any attention. And even if they did, it's ultimately out of their control. The act of going to the movies - the moviegoing experience - is miserable. Here's why:
  • The economy sucks now and things are in flux. People are on edge. We're irritable, so we're not always very nice to one another. Which makes it tough when we have to sit next to strangers for a few hours.
  • We're communicating with eachother now more than ever... just not in person. Our interpersonal skills aren't getting better. One result of this is that many of us don't know how to behave in public anymore.
  • Manners seem to be out the window. I may sound like a grumpy old man by saying this, but whatever happened to common courtesy and politeness?
  • Our attention spans have shortened. Some of us can't sit through a 90 minute movie without checking our Facebook.
  • And along with that, many of us aren't bothered by the fact that having our bright smartphones turned on disrupts the people sitting next to and behind us.
  • Many of us have a strong feeling of self-importance, perhaps now more than in the past. When someone calls us while we're in the theater, it's probably important and can't wait so we need to answer, regardless of the disruption to other viewers.
  • A lot of kids and young adults don't get much attention at home, so they have a need to overcompensate when they're out and about, trying to be funny in order to get someone to pay attention to them. Either by saying funny stuff or through plain old rowdiness. Anything to get a rise out of someone.
  • We know that we shouldn't talk during movies, but some of us do it anyway. Who cares? Offering funny commentary on the film will make your friends laugh and give you some attention for a fleeting moment. And being rowdy and disruptive will impress your friends.
  • Some of us think it's okay to bring babies or very young children to a movie theater. It's a pretty inconsiderate and selfish act that absolutely baffles me, and I don't think it's very nice to the baby, either. "To hell with the other people. I want to see this movie and I'm bringing my baby who is likely to cry." When you have a baby, that means you don't get to go to the movies unless you have a babysitter. I have a 1 1/2 year old niece. Her parents haven't been to the movies in - you guessed it, 1 1/2 years.

I still go to the movies, now more than ever. It's not always bad, and there are some good theaters out there where you don't run into this nonsense. Plus, a good movie usually makes me overlook the hassle. But my passion for film is far greater than that of the thousands of former regular filmgoers who have given up on going to the movies. For the money you're spending, you deserve a decent moviegoing experience.

When we go to the movies, it's a communal experience. But certain people behave as if they're the only ones in the theater. The majority of moviegoers are considerate. Decent. Well-behaved. Quiet. Respectful. It's a small percentage of the audience that makes the moviegoing experience unpleasant. There's a few in almost every multiplex auditorium, and they've helped millions of moviegoers make the decision to stay home instead of go to see a movie. They're costing the film industry hundreds of millions of dollars - more and more each year. And the funny thing is: The industry seems completely unaware of it. They're looking at their product, the marketing, star appeal, demographics, 3D and IMAX... But they pay no attention to the actual filmgoing experience itself. They spend millions of dollars going after pests who pirate, but the pests inside the theater? Zilch.

My advice to Hollywood: While you work on improving your product and making films that appeal to more than just your most profitable demos and just figure stuff out in light of this recent downturn, tell the theater owners to get their acts together and make the movie theater a place where people actually WANT to be. Here's some ideas to start:
  • Have strict no-talking and no-texting policies, and enforce them. Take action. Kick offenders out and show your patrons that you care about their moviegoing experience.
  • Get more creative and aggressive with your no-talking/no-texting announcements. Make them more than just cell phone commercials. Take a hint from Alamo Drafthouse.
  • Have ushers around to assist with seating for showings at or near capacity.
  • Try assigned seating. No lines, no need to get to the theater an hour early, and no need to get hostile with fellow filmgoers.
  • Don't allow children under the age of 2 unless it's a cry-baby, mommy matinee, baby babble or whatever other screening designated for parents with infants. And don't allow children under a certain age (say, 10?) into R-rated films, regardless of whether they're with an adult. Bringing your six year-old  into a hard-R sex comedy or an ultra-violent torture horror flick borders on child abuse in my opinion.
  • Offer more food and drink options at the concession stand.
  • Some theaters have an usher introduce each film, which I think is a good idea. That might seem silly or awkward, but it adds a personal touch to an experience that's otherwise low on human interaction. I think that having someone with a smile on their face welcome you to the theater, pump you up about the movie, tell you about refreshments, try to sell you a membership, and ultimately give you the house rules makes people more likely to obey them.
  • And how about this? On some films, drop the 3D surcharge.

Any other ideas? Please add your own notes to theaters in the Comments below.

January 02, 2012

In the Land of Blood & Honey- AMC Loews 19th Street 6

Mike: After we watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at Lincoln Square, Erica went home (she was tired) and I went down to the AMC Loews East 19th Street 6, just above Union Square, to catch Angelina Jolie's In the Land of Blood and Honey. Jolie's first effort at writing and directing is a war drama set during the early 90s Bosnian War. It had a one week Academy qualifying run at this theater - odd choice, but this is where it was playing.
The AMC Loews East 19th Street 6 is one of AMC's smaller Manhattan theaters. It's a lot like the AMC Loews Village 7, which is just a few blocks south of this one. They're similar in that they're smaller and somewhat... I don't want to say dilapidated, but they're not given as much as care as other AMC theaters. The screens are fine, spread out over two levels - a lot easier to navigate than the Escher-like Village 7. I've been to this theater a bunch of times before - in fact, it's the place where I had to utter the words 'One for Burlesque, please' last year. Embarrassing, but humbling.
I was kind of pissed because I didn't have time to eat lunch, so I figured I'd buy an AMC Smart Movie Snacks box. For the second time in one week at an AMC theater, they didn't have them. The girl behind the concessions counter said that they don't carry them anymore - despite the fact that there were posters promoting this very product all over the theater. I actually tweeted to AMC about it, as I did the week before when I tried to buy the Smart Movie Snacks at Kips Bay. They said that the program is still going and that they were going to follow up with the theater. I really do hope that AMC makes a better effort at making sure that their theaters are actually carrying these things - I'm not crazy about popcorn and I try to eat healthy, so I was hungry for the duration of the movie. Thanks, AMC.
Back to the movie - right off the bat, my hat is off to Angelina Jolie, who wrote, directed and produced this film. In the Land of Blood and Honey is as harrowing as it is genuine. The Bosnian conflict didn't get a lot of attention in the news in the US, so I appreciate an A-list personality like Jolie reminding us of the atrocities that occurred there so recently. I've read that she shot two versions of each scene - one in English and one in Serbian. Thankfully, distributor FilmDistrict has decided to go with the more authentic Serbian language version. Which goes along with Jolie's overall take on the subject - nothing is sugar-coated or romanticized. There is a lot of violence and lots of blood, and each time someone is shot in the head (it happens a lot here) it's a shock but there's no sensationalism to it. The deaths of major characters happen and pass as quickly as those of people in the background.
I was equally impressed by Jolie's ability - as a writer - to deal with such complex characters. While I enjoy seeing her on screen, In the Land of Blood and Honey is one of the best directorial debuts in recent years - proof that Jolie really ought to focus her efforts to writing and directing.