It was the original blockbuster. It was helmed by a heretofore unknown moviemaker who had a couple of successful projects under his otherwise novice belt. It was based on incredibly popular material that many in popular culture knew about and followed faithfully, and it introduced a series of innovations to both the marketing and distribution of films, creating the wide release strategy that started the entire opening weekend/multi-screen approach we know today. And it had absolutely nothing to do with a great white shark, the seaside city of Amity, or a director who would go on to be perhaps the most accepted cinematic voice of the last 40 years. No, no matter what you heard, Steven Spielberg and Jaws did not set the benchmark for future popcorn movie fortunes. Indeed, it was a manic maverick filmmaker and the third installment in his ongoing ‘spiritual vengeance’ franchise that first cracked the boffo box office code.
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The makers of movies in other parts of the world have a bigger problem than Harvey Weinstein. Their work, often far superior and riskier than what Hollywood hopes will connect with the great unwashed, barely gets a release beyond their borders, the allure of exciting subject matter and approaches trumped by a general dislike of subtitles and a feeling that foreign films are nothing more than the same old tired Tinseltown takes with a decidedly different vocabulary. Still, Weinstein is also a thorn in said cinema’s side. He is a ruthless businessman and a protracted fan of such arthouse fare, or so he would have you believe. Yet, recently, a notorious nickname associated with the former Miramax chief has come back to haunt him—“Harvey Scissorhands”—and it’s a reminder that, aside from differing dialogue, international efforts have a bigger barrier to aesthetic acceptance.
In the last couple of days, I have read two very interesting articles about the state of Hollywood. One centers on the current beef between the cast and crew of The Lone Ranger and a ragtag group of pre-biased critics who were out to get the movie even before it opened. According to Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Buckheimer, the prerelease buzz over Disney’s desire to cut costs and the ballooning of the budget to near $250 million (rumored) resulted in a bull’s eye on the film’s back. Even before a single frame was unveiled to the public, these underpaid, jealous pundits had their reviews ‘prewritten,’ ready to dump all over the movie before the people got a chance to weigh in (funny, I always thought that was that the box office was for).
Leave it to George Clooney to try and put some perspective into the usual end of summer season speculation. The Oscar winning actor and producer (whose no slouch when it comes to directing and screenwriting, either), was quoted this past week in an article taking on noted hedge fund billionaire Daniel Loeb, who many consider to be an “activist” when it comes to his investments, particularly in Hollywood (he currently controls around 7% of Sony’s stock). Speaking exclusively to Deadline.com, the celebrated superstar took a break from promoting his upcoming film about an Allied effort to save important works of art and culturally significant and rare artifacts from Hitler’s destructive forces, a clear awards season entry entitled The Monuments Men, to blast what he considers to be a carpetbagger, making claims against an industry without firsthand knowledge of what he’s truly talking about.
We critics love to complain: about bad movies; about bad theater going experiences; about unnecessarily beloved actors and actresses or titles that get too much attention/credence from less than selective audiences. But nothing gets our aesthetic panties in a wad quicker than when an otherwise strong entry in the medium, something we believe viewers and seasoned moviegoers have been asked for over the years, goes unnoticed or underappreciated. Typically, it’s a smaller, independent film which tries to broaden the language of the artform while remaining recognizable as entertainment or message. In the case of Pacific Rim, however, it’s a huge Summer season tentpole that bests lesser examples of its similarly styles monster movie mayhem.