Film Thought: Why I Balk at the Megaticket Experiment

Not too sound too much like a get-off-my-lawn-type but I did have a few thoughts on the recent Megaticket trial for World War Z.

Now, as much as possible, I will separate these thoughts from my thoughts on the film itself.

As many have pointed out, it’s fairly ironic that this trial occurred about a month after Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spent quite a bit of time speculating on the future of films, and Spielberg made the observation that moviegoing in a theatrical setting was heading the way of the Broadway musical becoming cost-prohibitive for the average consumer. This ticket hit half the $100 bogey he set.

And this is what the $50 got you:

included a ticket to a 3D screening of the movie on June 19, two days before the film’s release; one HD digital copy of the movie when it becomes available; one pair of “World War Z” custom RealD 3D glasses; a full-size limited-edition movie poster and a small popcorn

World War Z (2013, Paramount)

My first issue is that if you look at the cost per item, you’re about breaking even but reserving the right to own everything right away (They claim $75 in value. If that’s true they’re overvaluing the glasses and digital copy to me). However, you get no soda and you get no physical version of the film.

I’m not going to say I’d never parttake in a megaticket experience (the early screening is likely the most enticing in this now/future film culture that exists). However, if I were to do it I would more likely shell out the money for a DVD/Blu-ray combo and a title that was pre-sold to me.

I honestly still have issues believing World War Z was pre-sold to anyone. Yes, the novel had quite a following, but it was widely reported that this was an adaptation in name only. So for something say like Star Wars: Episode VII, I might consider it. Otherwise it’s going to take me a while to get on board.

The inclination is already for the studios to forgo risk-taking, if we, the movie-crazed minority, will jump at the opportunity to give up even more cash per head than we already do we’re further ensuring the studios’ business plan and endangering theatrical attendance.

Not too be overly-alarmist but it’s not hard to foresee the slippery slope this could lead us down. Make sure we don’t redefine what an event film is. Some releases may be worth this treatment but not most, and certainly not all.

Film Thought: Moviegoing Solo

Sometimes the short commentary pieces are one I think of and slip my mind and crop up every so often and I need a nudge to remember that the question could use asking.

I’ve meant to discuss, hopefully open up a dialogue, about moviegoing solo for a while. It’s one of the several aspects of the moviegoing experience I feel are worth some exploration. This is due in part to the fact that not only do I actually enjoy it but quite frequently some of my favorite films of the year happen to be seen just that way. Most recently and notably number two last year.

The impetus to finally bring it up was the other day Alexander Huls on Twitter mentioned he was asked “Just one?” when buying a ticket. We had a brief discussion about this wherein I likened it to being attended to at a restaurant. What that question, in either scenario, boils down to, at the very least, is not taking into consideration its connotation and the presumptive nature. Yes, people meet up and get names in for tables ahead of time at restaurants. That’s why the question is “How many?”As with moviegoing, it should be the same.

There were then two moviegoing-related anecdotes in pop culture that came to mind; I believe it was the ‘movie-saving episode’ of Seinfeld that brought up the question, how is moviegoing inherently better in a group. I also frequently harken back to Stephen King’s comment in Danse Macabre about people attending horror films in packs, in part to subconsciously stave off being frightened.

The answer to the Seinfeld question is that it is and it isn’t inherently better. If the movie is any good, or worth discussing, you can instantly talk to your friends afterwards about what you just watched. I think I saw Sinister in a group of five (a rare pack outing for me) and there was much to discuss. However, if there’s a film I have to get in, or I really want to see, and I don’t want to have to twist anyone’s arm to do it, like say a Bela Tarr, why wouldn’t I go alone? There’s no good reason for it, and I frequently do go.

New York is one of the great moviegoing destinations in the world. Whenever I’m there now I like to partake in activities on either end of the spectrum: either fairly touristy or something more localized that I know of having been born and raised there. However, I also typically also make it an overnight excursion and take advantage of the fact that there’s plenty of films out I can only see there and for a limited time.

So those are some of my tales of moviegoing solo. And what of you? Do you like, love or hate it, and why?

Film Thought: I Think We’re Alone Now

A few times recently I’ve been very close to being the only person, or party, in a theater for a particular showing of a film. In fact, a film I mentioned last week, Creature, may have been the last time that happened as it got a much wider release than should’ve been possible, and thus, shattered a record for box-office futility.

I recall the first time it happened was when I finally got around to seeing the extended/altered cut of E.T. many weeks after it was out. It sure is a fun and surreal experience for being alone and not having to worry about social graces and movie-watching etiquette; it’s one of the few times if ever I slack on that kind of thing.

Being in the sole party is the sort of thing I should contrive to do more often so maybe I’ll wait about a month to see Fast and Furious 6 because it is fun.

The two questions I have regarding this experience are: Have you ever been a part of the only party at a screening? And for people who have worked at theater, if no one is there does the movie even start up?

Film Thought: Walking Out of a Movie

Previously I had written about the conundrum of when to turn off a film. However, if there is one mark of delineation I drew there it’s that Netflix has somewhat changed my approach to that whole question. With Netflix, or any other service that gives you movies at the touch of a button, the tendency is to just push play with less consideration than in the past, unless you’re paying just for that film. With films that are included with a subscription we tend to treat them like they’re free, or at the very least we’re more inclined to click just to try and get the most out of our subscription.

However, the way I approach movies at the auditorium is a bit different. Whereas home viewing can be far more impulsive there is still a shrine-like, quasi-religious reverence granted to a movie being screened as it was intended. This is why I have no tolerance for disruptive, completely unnecessary, loud talking; cell phone use and other breaches of etiquette. While I’m at it it’d also be great if the glow stick brigade at my local theater, which is part of a large chain of multiplexes, would stop traipsing through the theater at the beginning and end of a film, when focus is more critical.

Due to the elevated status that I give seeing a movie in an auditorium (Though I see a much larger number at home than ever before), I am far more hesitant to abandon a screening that I’ve gone to see in person. There are a few reasons this is so: firstly, there is the time invested. Whether or not I’m close to the theater I still like to show up early, there are a significant number of trailers playing before the film so the time invested is more than the running time. Secondly, the financial investment is invariably greater. I’ve mentioned it on a few occasions, and the numbers are easy to figure out, if you’re viewing a film on demand you are renting it so it’ll play on your TV. They don’t verify how many people you have sitting in front of that TV so the savings are obvious especially if you snack at your home theater and at the multiplex. Lastly, it just seems like a much bigger move to get up and walk out. Yes, there is the complication of if you’re with a group of people, but hitting a stop button and walking out of an auditorium are two massively different things.

The last time I felt the twinge to want to leave a film was when I saw Creature. However, it was ultimately too much train wreck to ignore so that leaves Jumanji as the only film I voluntarily walked out of because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I could count Big Fish also, but the decision was aided by a fire alarm that allowed me to realize “Hey, I don’t care if I finish watching this movie now. Thanks!”

So there’s my take. How about you? What have you walked out on and do you find it’s easier to shut off a film at home than to walk out?

Film Thought: Film Word Association

It recently occurred to me that though one could think of many moments to associate with almost any film, especially one you particularly enjoy. Some films have that one iconic moment or element that stick in your mind, in some cases whether you saw them or not. For some of these films it’s a positive attribute, in other cases less so.

What made this notion come to mind was hearing mention of Waterworld. The word that instantly came to mind was: urine. Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen more than a few fleeting glances for it save for a scene here or there on TV. However, I heard of that element of the story enough that it’s the first thing I thought of. Similarly the original Total Recall had in it its famous scene that was the first thing that came to mind. That word association would be a cheat being two words, but still you get the idea.

It made me wonder how many films would conjure one instant word or image. It’d be rather trite for me to sit here listing all the ones I came up with, I think it’d function better as a game. If you want to try it here you can feel free to comment, or you could do it any of number of ways online or in person, with friends, family or non-frightening looking “strangers on a train” (Tennis, see it’s easy!). I’m sure there would likely be some rather funny results if were forced to pick a descriptive and representative word from a number of films.

Film Thought: Who Would Play You in a Movie?

How many of you have thought of the hypothetical question of who would play you in a movie of your life? It’s not the most unique query in the world. I assume there are a few. I gave it the occasional thought when I was younger, but never thought about it again until recently when asked.

More often than not I will admit I’ve considered what my life would be rated by the MPAA (can anyone get away without and R or higher knowing them?). I’ve also considered the end credits. Which are both very hypothetical and nearly metaphysical considerations. Who’s watching said movie to rate it or see the credits, is akin to the Theory of Size questions or other existential ponderings usually reserved for the very young.

Theoretically, someone making a movie about your life is a more feasible concept. What’s funny is that I have thought about this question more for people in my life than myself. Maybe the reason for that is how we all view ourselves, but I’ve had certain actors pinned down as certain family members for a long time: Melanie Griffith, Julia Roberts, Steve Martin and so on.

Casting a story based on my family is much easier. Myself? Not as much. If you want a reference point as to what I look like you can check out a photo on my Twitter. Let’s look through some of the ideas. One way to look at it is: who have people told me I remind them of? I can only readily recall two. When I was younger people used to say I reminded them of Fred Savage on The Wonder Years. However, I have a feeling a lot of kids got that around that time. Even if we did look like each other once upon a time, we no longer do.

A few people have told me I seem to resemble Roger Federer. I contest this notion, but even if I do, unless I wrote myself into some weird biopic/Tennis version of Space Jam that wouldn’t make sense anyway. The only actor that ever really came to mind is one I haven’t watched that much of recently, but was one of my favorites growing up, and one I’m looking forward to seeing in Maniac; Elijah Wood.

Now, to state the painfully obvious, I do not look like Elijah Wood. If this hypothetical film were to exist I’d be getting upgraded. If you’ve ever been introduced to a historical figure in a film typically the Hollywood edition is a bit of an upgrade to the original when you discover what they look like. My case would be that to the nth degree. However, another factor would be that we’re very nearly the same age. Yes, actors often stretch their range by a number of years, but since I have no obvious doppleganger I’ll limit it to people around my age. Second, his onscreen persona has always seemed somewhat similar to mine in life I feel. When he angers he may need to get louder, but I’m sure he can manage. Lastly, since he’s become a mature actor and gotten into social media Elijah has proven himself to be quite a film enthusiast. So there’s another reason.

Yeah, my choice isn’t a dead ringer, but it’s one I’d be pleased with. How about you? Who would play you in a movie?

Film Thought: The Foundation of Everything is Drama

I’ve always believed that drama is the foundation of all other genres, which could be interpreted to mean that everything is essentially a cross-genre piece, but essentially what lead me to this premise was thinking about how to to approach myriad genres as a writer, I think this can also apply to acting. There are few things that fall outside this cross-section.

Comedy is driven by obsession and as silly, or outlandish as scenarios may get the performers and the world created for them has to be one where there are stakes, consequences, needs and desires that ground these things. Even in parody comedies this should apply. Many cite The Naked Gun series as one of the best examples of this subgenre, and much credit in that case is due to Leslie Nielsen. For as preposterous as what he was saying or doing was he was committed to it, there was a dramatic intent bordering on deadpan that tethered the silliness of the situation to reality.

When applying this precept to horror it carries an additional even more significant burden. A comedy that does not make one laugh cannot really be said to be effective, but a horror film that one doesn’t find scary can be. A horror film is designed to terrify, to frighten, to scare to disquiet. Stephen King in discussing horror literature breaks down his own hierarchy wherein the gross-out is his last recourse.

The issue with the effectiveness of horror films effect on an individual in some cases can be heavily influenced by the individual. As a child I was rather sheltered, and kept to mostly age appropriate fare for quite some time. I didn’t like scary films. Gremlins scared me until, I later watched it in whole and found its dual intent. The first horror film that I really openly embraced, where I enjoyed being scared was The Shining. From there I was hooked and I sought out more.

Yet, seeking out more becomes the issue. You want to learn the genre but there are then fewer and fewer of those films with that seismic impact on you, even if it is that good. You get desensitized, to an extent to the more visceral elements of the film, which are its primary objective.

Thus, if a viewer is desensitized, or a horror film just isn’t as scary as it could be, what recourse is there for it? There is that foundation of drama. If the dramatic beats are set and strong; and I’ve said it’s not necessary before, and that’s true, but if the acting is strong, if the conflict is palpable; if the characters have some definition; if their goals, obstacles and needs are, at some point defined; then you’ve established drama in a horror film. You have there your foundation and the subjective matter of “Is this scary?” while it still matters, isn’t as as pivotal as it might’ve been.

As I said, this is a notion I’ve had for a while and it recently crystallized when I viewed a ghost story entitled The Awakening. It has its creepy moments, and this is easier to do in a ghost story perhaps than in other subgenres, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it terribly frightening, but the character’s conflicts and arcs, their interaction, the human emotion and struggle of the film; in short, the drama is really what drew me to it which is what brought this thought back foremost in my mind.

This may be why some films, and I won’t name names, that insist that their knowing cheesiness and lack of production value is their strongest asset don’t work for me. Great things have been done by filmmakers with limited resources who staunchly believed in what they were trying to commit to celluloid and did their damnedest. Usually, those are the films where you can smile and love it even through the glaring faults.

To conclude, I just want to clarify, if it wasn’t clear already, that I do not mean that everything needs to be treated sternly and severely, which is part of why I made references to comedies and Gremlins. The sensibility has to work for the film in question, however, even in a light tone there’s a dramatic foundation to it, a commitment, a dedication, which does not make itself apparent in the aforementioned unnamed films. To me that is what still strikes me as one of the fascinating things about the horror genre is that there is a when-all-else-fails contingency plan. That’s not to say that all films deal with material in a way that can transcend so well, or treat their foundation with the respect it requires, but it is there and those who use it well are really worth noting.

The foundation of everything is drama. The fenestration you add to it creates genre. It’s a building block to all film narratives, but with the horror film I feel it’s a most crucial one, because the prime objective is so very hard to achieve on a mass level that there needs to be something to fall back on.

Film Thought: What’s Your Favorite Film?

After having updated this year’s 31 Days of Oscar, someone commented, after seeing my reaction to Imitation of Life “That’s my all time favorite movie.” The conversation that ensued essentially came to this conclusion: “What are the odds?”

The conclusion I drew separately was “Hmm. Well, what if I hadn’t said anything, and I never knew?” Even film buffs who watch bajillions of things have one favorite that they can point to. The difficulty usually becomes trying to pick a top 5 or 10 say – definitely in going beyond that.

Even I, who am usually extraordinarily reticent to proclaim the best film ever made, have my answer: which would be A.I., however, every time I see Citizen Kane I think it kind of sits above being ranked. In doing my recent Spielberg list I was reminded that he supplanted himself as having made my favorite film of all-time when he made A.I. The film I’d last thought that of was Jurassic Park, and before that My Girl for very personal, and probably not so cinematic reasons. My point is a favorite film is a part of you for a number or reasons, it marks you and you it, whether for all time or at the very least in a time and place in your life.

What I came away from that conversation most curious about was “What’s your favorite film?” The general your, meaning almost anyone I talk to. I want to hear them, and see them if I haven’t. And a friendly note: if you ask someone their favorite film, and you set out to see it, do not expect it to be yours too, please just take it for what it is.

So there’s the question, I’m curious to know, if you can name just one favorite what would it be?

Film Thought: A Film For All Occasions

Not too long ago I was asked to participate in a medical study to gather information, and further knowledge, about a metabolic condition I am afflicted with. Part of the process which I was subjected to was a very long MRI. Any and all people taking this MRI were encouraged to bring in a movie to watch. This movie would be viewed in the tube through an angled mirror that would reflect the screen’s image in to you.

What this piece of information made me realize is that there really is a film for all occasions. With this situation I was thinking about what film had a hypnotic quality, that would keep me fairly still for an extended period of time. I also thought to pick a rather lengthy movie should the scan run long for whatever reason, which it did.

I chose Jeanne Dielman, which ended up working perfectly. I have since noted that there are films that, of course, have seasonal connotations such as Halloween and Christmas, but also those that are perfectly suited for other more idiosyncratic occasions. While I usually try to go to the movies on my birthday, those choices are particular to me and my tastes, there are even more obscure occasions that have movies that fit them. It’s all about finding the right tone and rhythm for you. What other odd occasions have movies that suit them perfectly, I now wonder, seeing as how I found the perfect MRI film?

The Dichotomous Parallel Between MP3s and Digital Copies

Recently, I drew the parallel between the digitization of music and that of cinema. Digitization in terms of the end user’s home entertainment product. I often describe myself as being caught between two times because I always like to have links to the past, while conversely staying fairly current. I remember when MP3s first came around it was amazing. It was like “Ermagerd, I can listen to music on the computer” (That is, if we talked that back then).

Maybe it had a little to do with the fact that the internet was still in its infancy and we all either turned a blind eye to, or were ignorant to, the piracy it incurred. Eventually, the free music party came to a halt. While Lars Ulrich was neither the right person, nor an un-douche, he had a point about Napster. The fact of the matter is the word monetization wasn’t even in the vernacular back then. In the end, it was Apple with the inception of iTunes and the iPod that legitimized MP3s. Now, there was and is music business tussling there too. The point of the mini-history lesson is: Music on a computer was instantly fine with the masses. I can’t say it was preferred, even I have to give it to certain formats (even the analog ones) for having un-reproduceable qualities, but it was widely and quickly accepted as a norm.

With movies that’s not really the case. I’m citing mostly myself in this instance but the shelves of a Best Buy and the warehouses of Amazon will back me up on this, films on physical media are still king even if not by much. However, having some sort of file saves room. I had a clutter of CDs that I then jammed into my iTunes and could access it at the touch of a button on my iPod. With movies I’d still rather hold the disc.

There are gray areas which I’ll come to, devices may play a large part. Apple didn’t just start iTunes, as I mentioned they added an accessory. So, yes, the new album I both wouldn’t be something I physically received, but I’d access it through a device.

This tactile obsession is a bit odd and interesting. I think the volume of streaming done on Netflix and Amazon will indicate that we’re fine with cutting the rental store out. We just want to see a movie. People have been watching movies on TV since there was TV, and even more frequently since the advent of HBO. However, that’s watching a movie. Owning a movie up until recently has meant possessing a physical copy of the film.

Even within the realm of digital film there’s a slight stigma I feel. I like having as a bonus a digital copy of a film … on a disc that I can download into my iTunes. However, Ultraviolet annoys me and is something I’ve not used and I think many others feel the same way, and I have access to digital versions of many Disney films I’ve purchase, which remain unstreamed. It still comes down to having a box with a film in it feeling more like owning it even though the issue of space is still present.

Perhaps, this is a slower evolution, or maybe physical copies of films on one media or another will never die our for home video use. Perhaps it’ll be smaller or less successful films that go digital only, while the blockbusters and new classics that can still make a killing on video will get DVDs and Blu-Rays and whatever comes next. I don’t know the answer; time will tell. I just thought it was such a jarring juxtaposition for me personally of how readily I accepted digital representations of one artform but struggle with another. Furthermore, it’s confined to a feeling of ownership, of wanting to have that film in my grasp. I can watch any old thing by any number of streaming methods even as a first viewing but ownership still equates to a holding the film, and I’m sure I’m not alone there. That may change for me and for many some day but it hasn’t yet.