“The Watch” and Other Myopic Endeavors

Exhibitors by nature are a cautious lot. They are at the bottom of the feeding frenzy that is called the film business. Producers aka studios make films. Distributors set the advertising and get the films to the theaters. Exhibitors are the theaters. They are totally reliant on the films Hollywood sends them, and without them they would not be able to charge $7 for a box of popcorn that costs about 75¢ to produce.

Exhibition is a business. The people that run them are businessmen and women. Certainly they may be knowledgable and certainly they may be above average in intelligence, but the business does not require an abundance of creativity. It has a tendency to make the people in it become conservative in thought and speech. Exhibitors are constantly amazed when a film they hardly understand becomes a hit. They’ll shrug their collective shoulders and say, “Who knew?” It is this mentality of not understanding the art side of the business that was one of the imperatives towards creating megaplexes. If you play every single film available, it mitigates the chance of missing something that might sell more popcorn, er tickets.

So it comes as little surprise that the industry is abuzz with the Arizona exhibition chain that recently nixed playing THE WATCH. THE WATCH is distributed by 20th-Century Fox. Fox is a ‘firm terms’ company. They disdain and officially put the kibosh on the age old industry dance called negotiations.

In the good old days, when a film finished playing, the person who was responsible for putting the film into the movie theater and the person responsible for selling that film would ‘settle’ the film. Or in a more colloquially manner of speaking, they’d start acting as if the film were a bag of potatoes being purchased by a frugal minded grandmother at an open market dealing with an old established adversary, the grocer. They would start with a standard dance. One would say, “The film tanked.” The response would be, “No it didn’t, you made money.” Then a counter, “It was flawed p.o.s.” Followed by the standard, “You made money.” Which would yield, “What are you talking about?! People walked out.” “Yeah, they may have walked out, but that’s because your floors are sticky.” The argument would go back and forth in a good natured dance. Ultimately they would arrive at an acceptable price for all. The movie industry was like that for years.

Firm term means we will not negotiate. It is what it is, take it or leave it. Remember exhibitors don’t want to miss out on any potential hit, so they will take it. They will grumble, but they will take it. They are over the proverbially barrel. Now comes that 30 screen Arizona theater chain that said “No!”. They said no to Fox’s THE WATCH. On some level you applaud them, but of course they took a film that most knew was a dog, had positioning problems in the marketplace and at a time when there was plenty of product to fill the other screens. They bold statement was hardly bold. Of course, they said it was because an agreement on the rental feel couldn’t be achieved. Hardly. Fox offered what it always does. The exhibitor saw a bad film with little chance to make any money and made a public case of it. They look bold. They appear strong.

Don’t believe it. They are positioning themselves for Fox’s next film. They hope, probably erroneously that they will get a better deal. The distributors doesn’t really care about exhibitors as long as they pay whatever they dictate. It is part of the problem with the film distribution model that was created a century ago. It is archaic and dictated by people who don’t truly care about what’s best for the industry.

So it goes.


The 10 Worst Mars Films

‘John Carter’ opens tomorrow. The $250 million epic is an Edgar Rice Burroughs book adapted for the screen and directed by Pixar’s talented Andrew Stanton. As a result, there is a lot of talk about great Martian films. I’m taking the opposite tack, the 10 worst films about Mars.

The very first film about Mars was in 1910 when some guy named Edison. He made ‘A Trip to Mars’. Since then there have been serious and trashy. The themes usually revolve around Mars needing some natural resource from us, usually as breeding stock. It seems they are jealous of our blue planet. It makes then red with anger.

Here are 10 films that have little going for them except their ‘badness’, and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways, in order of release date.

1) Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952)
Martians plan to blast Earth out of its orbit and replace it with Mars! This 50s serial is fun to watch for its very campy nature but also for a very young Leonard Nimoy (as a zombie). Equally interesting is Tom Steele, noted stuntman, in a role simply stated as “Thug in Launch”

2) Devil Girl From Mars (1954)
Pouty lipped Martian Babe dressed in leather, has a ray gun and a killer robot. Her needs Earth hunks for breeding purposes. Apparently Martian men lack the right stuff. David MacDonald directs this opus while Patricia Laffa looks great in leather.

3) Angry Red Planet (1959)
The first manned flight to Mars returns. Of the two survivors one has a green growth on his arm, and the other, under hypnosis, tells of their escape. Mars is inhabited with man-eating plants, giant Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab monsters and a one-eyed monster with dissolving super-powers. Sounds like wonderful a vacation spot. Orbitz can get your a deal.

4) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Santa is captured by Martians to stop Earth kids from being cheery. But Santa teaches those little green brats the real meaning of Christmas. The silliest movie ever made, directed by Nicholas Webster and starring John Call, Pia Zadora, Jamie Farr.

5) The Maid and the Martians (Pajama Party) (1964)
Martian teenager, Gogo, comes to Earth in preparation of a Martian invasion lead by Big Bang (Don Rickles).  Tommy Kirk and Annette Funicello play the titular stars who find love knows planetary bounds. Great to see legends Buster Keaton, Dorothy Lamour, and Elsa Lanchester. Look for a very young Teri Garr as one of the many Pajama Girls.

6) Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)
An atomic war on Mars destroys the planet’s women (again?). Martian Princess Marcuzan travels to earth seeking new breeding stock. Landing in Puerto Rico, a brain damaged android terrorizes the island while Martians raid pool parties. Respected actor James Karen probably changed agents after starring in this.

7) Planet of Blood (also called Queen of Blood) (1966)
In 1990, an Earth vessel is sent to rescue an alien ship which has crashed on Mars. A team of astronauts discover a lone survivor, a green-skinned female with a horny taste for human blood and some eggs in need of delivery. John Saxon, Basil Rathbone and Dennis Hopper star

8) Mars Needs Women (1967)
A dying race (who else, Martians) need nubile Earthlings for hanky panky. They gravitate towards strippers, co-eds and flight attendants, just like any normal hormonally deranged teenage boy would do. Will the friendly Martians manage to succeed on their mission? Will the evil human scientists stop them? Oh, the tension. The tag line says it all: “They were looking for chicks… to go all the way!”

9) Bad Girls from Mars (1990)
Sexy spoof about a director making a soft-porn scifi flick. The movie within a movie cost a paltry $52,000 to make and every penny is seen on the screen. Starring Edy Williams, she of hubby Russ Meyer’s ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ infamy, the film has more to do with boobs than Mars.

10) Mars Needs Moms (2011)
The reason ‘John Carter’ is not named ‘John Carter of Mars’ is because this baby sank a company and hurt the bottom line of another. It cost $200 million and yielded less than $30. Once again, the Martians need Earthling bodies, moms, to help them survive. My aren’t we egotists to imagine how important we are to the universe?

Over the past several years, Mars has tailed off as film subject matter. Most likely because science has shown it devoid of advanced life forms. And as these films have shown, Hollywood could be accused of the same.

What We Learn by Traveling in Time

DIMENSIONS: A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads was The Gort recipient at this year’s Boston Science Fiction Film Festival. It is an indie gem about time travel. It got me thinking, there are a lot of time travel films out there. What do they tell us? Are there lessons to be learned and, if so, what are they?

The answer to the second question is an emphatic yes. So here are a few lessons gleaned from various time travel films.

Lesson #1: If you travel back in time, remember, no matter how hot you mom is and how strong she comes on to you, don’t sleep with her. (Back to the Future)

Lesson #2: Loud, nearly atonal teenage rock music is timeless, like the masters Mozart and Beethoven. It comes replete with significant ear damage and with a poseur’s attitude. Oh yeah, really cute women will be drawn to it like a Valley girl is drawn to malls. (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

Lesson #3: In the pursuit of perfect happiness, it is imperative to buy lots of insurance from snarky salesmen. This is key to finding a smart, beautiful woman as a life companion. It also helps if you can play the piano, know the Heimlich Maneuver and avoid puddles. (Groundhog Day)

Lesson #4: When preparing for time travel, bringing the proper equipment makes all the difference. The savvy time travel knows that no matter where you go, or when, be sure to bring your chainsaw. It has a thousand and one uses. (Army of Darkness).

And finally, in Lesson #5, we learn that modern dentistry has no equal throughout the ages, especially the 1960s. (Austin Powers & The Spy Who Shagged Me)

We’ll be mulling and absorbing these lessons as the days go on. Perhaps we’ll discover some more for as we know, the movies are a font of essential information on how to live our lives, just ask the Eloi.

Oscar Nominations 2012

Went on NH Public Radio’s Word of Mouth with Virginia Prescott. We talked about the Oscar nominations for 2012.

Once again the people populating the world of Hollywood have put their crass business ways aside and try to remember the ‘art’ side of their business. This year’s nominations deftly avoid the big money makers of the past year in favor of films that suck up to their past like Scorcese’s HUGO and Hazanavcious’s THE ARTIST.

With nearly 5800 people voting in this year’s Oscars, we can expect a self-congratulatory valentine to their industry. In the meantime, I’ll be writing about the Oscars over the next few weeks

.Here is a link to the Word of Mouth conversation

Food for Thought

There was a time when propaganda films were known for what they were. For example, during World War II Hollywood studios actively helped in the war effort. The most famous of these films was Frank Capra’s “WHY WE FIGHT”, a collection of informational films designed to explain what the war was about. Lesser known were Walt Disney’s animated films. The following is an example.

When you watch this film you are struck at how good the animation is and how the simplest of societal roles are magnified for purpose.

Today, the role of propaganda films have been taken over by documentaries. In essence, film makers make films that do little but preach to the choir. They aren’t documentaries in the sense that they are giving a fair and balanced approach to the topic. On the right or the left, the films are usually calls to action. We are spending less time looking at problems and more time yelling at each other. Documentaries, like the political process itself, has become coarse.