Determining the greatest gore films of all time is not an easy task. After all, splatter tends to measure its own value in gallons of blood and baskets of body parts. For some, any grue is way too much. Many felt that The Exorcist had pushed the boundaries of taste when director William Friedkin showed young Regan McNeal having her artery tapped for a CAT scan (apparently, the crucifix and the pea soup were easier to tolerate), while Broadway He-va Bob Fosse offered an extended sequence of open heart surgery smack dab in the middle of his autobiographical musical All That Jazz. From David Warner’s decapitation in the original Omen to the infamous fish tank frenzy in Silent Partner, the mainstream movie has readily embraced entrails as a means of making its point. This doesn’t mean viewers have enjoyed it. Like liver or limburger cheese, they are willing to sample small doses, and that’s about it.
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It’s been Tyler Perry’s problem his entire career. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how far his influence can exceed already established expectations, he still has a near impossible time tapping into the mainstream. Not in all mediums, mind you. Just films. After all, his TV series tend to defy industry precepts to pull in big numbers across the board, and his personal appearances and stage plays still draw huge numbers. But if you look closely at his work in film, you see a ceiling, a limited reach if you will. Before he became a phenomenon, long before he told every angry black woman to diary their dog-like mates, he was viewed as a niche artist serving a decided niche demo. Put another way, he was an known urban quantity serving an ignored ethnic audience eager to support him. Limited appeal. Limited legs beyond.
Of course, no one outside the pundits really cares/cared. As long as he could maintain minimal budgets ($5 to $20 million) and three to four times the return upon release, he was golden. He was sainted. He was the most powerful and profitable man in Hollywood. But no artist works in a vacuum. They want their work seen by as many people as possible. For Perry, that meant reaching out beyond the decidedly African American segment of the population that prefers his work. It means finding an ancillary series or franchise that, while never taking away from his core audience, would expand his already obvious influence. The answer, it seemed, was James Patterson’s character, Alex Cross.
With another $26.5 million in box office receipts in its second week of release and enough positive word of mouth to push the final total well past $100 million, Hotel Transylvania has clearly won the 2012 Family Fright Film Wars - animation category. It bested previous throne pretender ParaNorman ($54 million and falling) and non-entity newcomer Frankenweenie (barely breaking $11 million for its three day bow). More interesting is the clash between critical response and such obvious audience appreciation. Norman walked in with a Rotten Tomato aggregate of 87% (123 out of 142 critics loved it), while Weenie earned an equally impressive 85% (104 out of 122). Transylvania, on the other hand, sits at 47%.
Viewers, on the other hand, have mucked things up a bit. Transylvania earned a 79% “liked it” from the site. Weenie ranked higher, pulling in an 83%. Norman pulled in similar numbers, sitting at 78%. It’s the same kind of result that other sources, using their own scoring criteria, seem to emulate. And yet there is a commercial disparity which questions such consensus. Right now, unless something radical happens, Burton’s “return to form” will probably end up being one of his lowest grossing films ever, while Norman is already viewed as a disappointment. On the other hand, suits in studio suites are trying to determine how best to approach the inevitable Transylvania sequel.
Is that even true? Every “great”...Wait, let’s backtrack for a moment. Over the last few weeks, Lionsgate has been advertising its Dax Shepard vanity project Hit and Run with the unusual tagline “Every great comedy has an awesome villain.” The campaign, which focuses on the criminal character played by a dreadlocked Bradley Cooper, has the charismatic thug kissing his gal pal, roughing up a man in a tank top, and stumbling upon a group of over the hill swingers. In between the quips and gunfire, we see a bit of Shepard and his co-star/real life lady love Kristin Bell. The plot gets a cursory nod (guy who gave up his criminal co-defendant gets a reprisal visit from same) and we see some chase/action beats.
Yet it’s the broad pronouncement about comedy and villains that plays as the sales pitch. In essence, Hit and Run is arguing that (a) it is a great comedy, because (b) it has an awesome villain. The statement also implies three other ancillary theorems: (1) that a villain is mandatory for a comedy, (2) that a bad villain makes for a bad comedy, and (3) that by logical extension, a bad comedy can’t have an awesome villain and a great comedy cannot have a bad/non-existent villain. On first glance, they’re right. What would Animal House be without Dean Wormer, Greg Marmalard, and Douglas Neidermeyer? M*A*S*H* without Frank Burns and Hot Lips? Blazing Saddles without Mongo and Headley Lamar? Or how about Ken Jeong in the Hangover films?
As they have done every ten years now for the last six decades, Britain’s Sight & Sound magazine has released its usually dependable and considered definitive Best of All Time film list. A massive undertaking, involving the polling of filmmakers, critics, scholars, and other influential figures, the breakdown of cinema’s 100-plus years of existence always causes celebration, and consternation. It’s a debate point, a “told ya” tenet of where we think we are culturally as well as a primer for those who need some schooling in their appreciation of the artform. This year, the social network topic of conversation was the displacement of Orson Welles’ seminal and highly influential masterpiece Citizen Kane from the number one slot. In its place - the equally transcendent work of celluloid art, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
For some, the selection was a scandal. Kane, which had held the top spot for more than 50 years, is often considered the blueprint for modern moviemaking. From its meaningless mystery core (who or what ‘Rosebud’ is becomes less important than the vignettes of the man who mumbled said famous last word) to the stunning using of various aesthetic flourishes and tricks, Welles turned the populist entertainment format into something akin to a canvas, taking everything he had in his creative paintbox and placing it square within his carefully created framing. The same can easily be said for Vertigo. Hitchcock, at the height of his popularity and powers, poured his personal obsessions and fetishes into a film which, again, offers a pointless whodunit design shrouded in sublime craftsmanship.
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