About Jill Malcolm

Seek and you shall find...

Weekend Box Office: Apes, Help

Films used to stay dominate in theaters for a long time, especially back in the days before home video, but in a summer where every weekend seems to bring another studio tentpole, Rise of the Planet of the Apes pulled a rare feat and stayed on top of the box office for a second week with $27.5 million. The new film was only the third movie of the summer to do so, after summer opener Thor and Independence Day weekend Transformers. Though the film experienced a 50% drop off, that was not as steep as other summer sequels like X-Men: First Class.

The other big winner this weekend was The Help, which brought in $25.5 million in its first weekend. This put the movie ahead of the last two August female-driven book adaptations, Julie and Julia ($20 million) and Eat, Pray, Love ($23 million), both of which had bigger star power headlining. This is extra impressive since the film actually opened last Wednesday (our review) and has taken in a quick $35 million in its first five days. Because the film is skewing toward an older demographic than most summer films, plan on this one hanging around for a few weeks, especially given the Oscar buzz already being generated.
Debuted this week was Final Destination 5, which opened to a franchise-falling $18.4 million. While it experienced the highest 3D to 2D ratio of the summer (75% of the gross was from 3D), the overall take was lackluster. This is what happens when you market the movie as more of the same…after you promised the 2009 installment was the last film in the series.

Next weekend seems wide-open, so tune in here Monday morning to see the showdown between the Conan reboot, the Fright Night remake, and Spy Kids 4D!

Thoughts on Movie Poster Controversy

This post is in response to an interesting list that was circulating last week from Flavorwire on the 10 most memorable film poster controversies. When it’s usually the films themselves that get people up in arms, I found this article to be a new perspective on the many forms of censorship (warranted and not) that exist in the film industry. My thoughts about each list entry are below, please refer to the link above for pictures in the original article.

1. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher (2011)

I’m going to go out on a limb and claim this film as the most anticipated of the year. So when the poster was released (with a killer tagline I might add), it was bound to stir up attention. But many found the half-naked depiction of Rooney Mara a little jarring, and a misrepresentation of her character, Lisbeth. Instead of a strong heroine, many found a vulnerable victim in the arms of Daniel Craig. When I saw this poster I didn’t have the same reaction. I think many people mistake vulnerability for weakness, and that’s not what is being portrayed here. Plus, it’s David Fincher, and as Ryan has said, “he’s no hack director.” I have all the confidence in the world that he will do justice to Lisbeth and her story.

2.  Captivity, Roland Joffe (2007)

I’m not a fan of horror films, so I had no idea this movie really existed although I do recall hearing a little about this controversy. All I really have to say about this one is movies like this should never even be made, let alone marketed to a general audience. It’s torture porn, plain and simple, and everyone associated with something like this should be ashamed. The article includes a link to another article that has more coverage of the public outcry, and the lame attempts at excuse making by distributor reps. My favorite includes the explanation that a change in the film’s ending (supposedly our lead remains alive instead of being tortured to death) is empowering to women. My question is, even if you mistakenly send the wrong images to the printer (which the reps claim is what happened, and that there was no executive sign off or approval) the fact is that this series of four panels was at one point a draft. A draft that was up for consideration, and a draft that pretty much gave the ending of the film (at one time) away. I posed my confusion about this to Ryan, to which he replied, “a movie like this doesn’t have a story, it doesn’t matter.” Exactly.

3. The Road to Guantanamo, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross (2006)

Interesting that one little close up fixes the problem for everyone. A great example of the power of perception.

4. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog (2009)

This entry was an interesting read, if what interests you is the MPAA’s quirky and oftentimes ridiculous regulations. Although I have to agree that a gun shoved in someone’s face sends out messages, whether we want it to or not.

5. The Hills Have Eyes II, Martin Weisz (2007)

The article found this entry to be another random morality call by the MPAA, but to me there is a stark difference if you can believe it or not. As you may have already gathered, I hate the depiction of torture in movies. I can see people shot, blown up, blah, blah, but I don’t do mental or physical torture. Which is why I hate horror films. So back to the posters. The first poster submitted to the MPAA was rejected because of the hand clawing its way from the body bag. This person, obviously alive, is trying to escape almost certain death. To me this represents torture, which can be disturbing (and honestly it should be disturbing) to a lot of people. So they changed it to the feet of presumably a dead person dragging outside the bag. Don’t get me wrong, this is just as messed up as the first, but slightly less so since the worse for this poor soul seems to be over. Can I just ask what the heck is appealing about films like this? I mean really, I actually want to know. I kind of want to take a shower after writing this paragraph….

6. I Spit on Your Grave, Steven Monroe (2010)

All I have to say is, why was this even made? See Captivity.

7. Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Kevin Smith (2008)

I actually thought the original poster was hilarious. Apparently the Canadians have a better sense of humor.

8. The Rules of Attraction, Roger Avary (2002)

This was interesting to me because I know I read a book for my Russian History class in college that had toys, I believe a bear and a Barbie doll in a compromising position on the cover (you had to read the book). So it was strange to me that this came across as offensive, especially since I’m pretty sure most kids have done this to their stuffed animals at one point.

9. The People vs. Larry Flynt, Milos Forman (1996)

The original poster was used in Europe, but I have to say I like the second poster more-I think the symbolism rings truer.

10.    The Outlaw, Howard Hughes (1943)

The outlaw? Apparently Jane Russell’s breasts….

Movie Tavern: Skeptic Turned Believer

I had read enough about the Alamo Drafthouse franchise in Texas to be slightly skeptical about the Movie Tavern that just opened it’s doors in Collegeville, PA. For those not familiar with this trend, both the Alamo and Movie Tavern provide theatergoers with food, drink, and seat service during a film. As fantastic as this sounds, as someone who gets cranky when they hear the crinkle of a candy bag, I was expecting a full blown aneurism at the prospect of listening to the orchestra of people eating a full-blown meal.

But I’m happy to report that I actually had a positive experience at Movie Tavern, and here’s why:

1. The auditorium setup
Because waiters need to be able to access everyone’s seat without too much disruption, the aisles in these theaters are huge. And consequently, so are the seats. Let’s just say this is probably the only time in my life I will experience what first class is like on an airplane. With so much room, it’s easy to get comfortable and enjoy the movie you’re watching.

2.  The fluidity/timing/ease of ordering food
Movie Tavern recommends arriving a half hour before your movie time to ensure that there is ample time to get seats, and order food and drinks. Because mostly everyone in the theater is ordering the bulk of their food before the movie even starts there is little risk of multiple interruptions while the film is playing. I think I was only passed three times by a waiter during the course of a two hour movie. Each seat has a tray to hold everything, and a button that you press for service. After you receive your food, the waiter only comes back if you push the button. To my surprise, very few people continued to order things throughout the movie. I guess I had little faith that people would remember the primary reason they go to theater: to see a movie, and not to eat.

3. The movie itself
Selection of the movie is an important thing to consider in this situation. I believe my experience was as positive as it was because I saw Cowboys & Aliens, an action movie that required little thought on my part, and enough noise to block out any mastication in my general area. Because I was in the middle of eating during the first twenty minutes of the movie, my attention wasn’t always up at the screen. I wouldn’t normally condone this, as I like to be fully immersed in the film from beginning to end, but Cowboys & Aliens is one of those fun, easy films that doesn’t require such stiffness. I want to stress again that I don’t think I would chose Movie Tavern for quieter, more introspective films where excess noise in the theater becomes a distraction.

4.  An extensive and reasonably priced menu
I was thrilled and surprised by the amount of choices offered. Movie Tavern has a full bar, and plenty of menu options (and dessert!) to please just about everyone. The food isn’t stellar, but not any worse than a large casual restaurant chain, like Applebee’s. It’s also a nice luxury to be able to drink beer during a film (without having to hide an ice pack in your coat and possibly be kicked out or worse, your beer confiscated).

5. Friendly waitstaff and employees
I think I was told “Enjoy your movie” five times before I even sat down. And while such enthusiasm may wane after the initial opening (trust me I’ve worked in service jobs before), I felt very welcome and taken care of while there. I’m calling out the service specifically because another one of our local theaters that we frequent out of necessity lacks the same friendly face. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the moody teens that work there or what, but because there’s alcohol being served in the theater, a majority of the staff is older and less full of angst.

I came into this experience as a purist, believing that anything added to the theater experience was probably taking away from it. And in some cases, I believe Movie Tavern could take away from film watching. But if you’re looking for a fun, different, and social night outing with friends, then Movie Tavern may be something to look into-as long as the movie you’re watching isn’t The Tree of Life.

Movie Tavern website.

List of Shame File #10: Hannah and Her Sisters

I feel slightly embarrassed that it has taken me this long to see Hannah and Her Sisters. But there was a time when I thought if you’d seen one Woody Allen movie (Annie Hall), you’d seen them all. In many ways, that is still the case. Allen loves inserting his neurotic personality into each movie he makes, and while it has the tendency to be hilariously over the top, it can get tiresome very quickly. Luckily for Allen, he is extremely talented at populating his movies with characters so real and memorable that we hardly fault him for wanting to be around them as well.

Hannah and Her Sisters is a film about just that: Hannah (Mia Farrow) the oldest sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest in an Oscar winning role) in the middle, and Lee (Barbara Hershey) the youngest. I don’t recall the film ever stating definitively the birth order of Holly or Lee, but again, Allen does such an amazing job writing these characters I can’t see them being any other way. Hannah embodies the independence and giving nature that comes with being the respected and well-loved eldest child. Both Holly and Lee look up to her, seek her approval, and chide her when they think Hannah’s well meaning advice is really just a way for her to knock them down a few pegs. This is especially the case with Holly who is the wild child of the bunch.

But the story isn’t just about the sisters, it’s also about the men in their lives. Specifically, how the men in Hannah’s life, end up in her sisters’ lives. Hannah’s husband Elliot (Michael Caine) is in love with Lee, and struggles with his lust over her and his feelings for Hannah. Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) is a hypochondriac, always at the doctor checking the status of his latest mole, cough, or side pain. He had a brief affair with Holly that ended in disaster.

The film studies these characters in a collection of well headlined vignettes, each chapter of the story described with white letters on a black screen in such a way that seems slightly romanticized (“Lucky I ran into you,”The Big Leap,” “Summer in New York”). Like pages from a book or conversations we have with friends about love and life, Allen attempts to piece together the meaning of it all, and at the same time pokes fun at anyone who thinks they have the answer. By the end of the film Allen and his character Mickey have come to accept that there is no way of knowing anything, that the present is alway better enjoyed now than worrying about the future or remembering the past.

Hannah and Her Sisters shines when it focuses on the relationship between Hannah, Holly, and Lee. There is a scene where the three of them meet for lunch, Hannah is having difficulties understanding Elliot’s strange behavior, Lee is devastated over her affair with Elliot, and Holly is struggling to make it as an actress. Holly says she needs to borrow more money, to which Hannah is more than understanding, but wants reassurance that Holly will use it in a proactive way. Holly explains she wants to become a writer, that she has a few good stories she thinks would make excellent screenplays. Hannah offers some of her sisterly advice and Holly takes offense.

Nowhere else in the film is the relationship and power dynamics of these women expressed so well. The camera closes in on the table, constantly circling as they argue. Holly, the defiant middle sister, always thinking of herself as the loser of the group and constantly fighting for confidence from herself and others. Hannah the wise and rational older sister, only wants what’s best for everyone but doesn’t allow anyone to do the same for her. And young Lee struggling to make everyone stop fighting on the brink of tears over her guilt and shame.

This film is considered a comedy and there are indeed some funny moments, but there is also some sadness in these characters’ stories as well. And while each character is given their “happy” ending, in some ways we’re unsure about some of their true feelings over the way things worked out. Allen received an Academy Award for this screenplay, and the dialogue and performances alone are reason enough to see what Roger Ebert has called Allen’s best film to date.

Review: Another Earth

By now you may already know this mysterious film called Another Earth, that was a Sundance darling and is now being touted as the best indie drama released this year. For all I know, it very well is. But essentially the story of Another Earth is simply that of Rhoda (Brit Marling), an MIT-bound young woman who after a night of celebration makes a bad decision that ends up changing (ruining?) her life and the lives of the Burroughs family forever (forever?).

And of course, there’s that second earth. In fact, the moment Rhoda sticks her head out of the car window to search for this amazing sight is when the course of her foreseeable future was altered. Over the years, the second earth grows bigger in the sky, until it ultimately just becomes a part of everyone’s reality. No longer on the road to college, Rhoda becomes a janitor at the local high school, everyday seeing the second earth. People don’t really talk about it, scientists continue to study its strange presence, but there doesn’t appear to be any threat, and life goes on as usual.

It isn’t until Rhoda visits the composer-turned-recluse John Burroughs (William Mapother) that the second earth begins to spark questions within Rhoda that force her to contemplate whether second chances are possible. Rhoda intends to make amends for her mistakes by seeing Burroughs, but instead she lies about belonging to a maid service, and ends up cleaning his house all the while getting closer to a man who doesn’t know who she is, and could never forgive her for what she did to his family. In the end, she makes the only choice she knows will allow Burroughs to find closure, and possibly a new life that begins, ironically, with the one he lost.

Sci-fi films generally have the difficult task of balancing often complicated metaphysical plot lines with characters that spout more than just mind numbing exposition. Few films succeed in the act, and more times than not audiences are dazzled by images rather than story or character development. Another Earth represents the beginning of something that I hope becomes a trend in both indie and blockbuster sci-fi dramas: an unpretentious film that doesn’t get too mired down in being “smart.”*

This isn’t to say that Another Earth doesn’t possess intelligence, or that it doesn’t take its science fiction aspects seriously. In many ways, by not delving too deep into the reasons why there is suddenly a second earth, the film can explore subjects that are not present in most traditional science-fiction films that are often too involved with thwarting some dangerous threat to human existence. The second earth is merely a metaphor that represents all mankind’s yearning for second chances, the belief that maybe another me, in another place, got it right, and maybe I can too.

Another Earth spends a lot of time asking questions, providing intriguing theories and hints, while simultaneously backing off. Sometimes the theories seem to only be present in order to further the plot, or offer a reason behind a character’s actions. This is certainly the case at the end of the film when Rhoda, after hearing one scientist on TV discuss his theory on the presence of the second earth, gives up her shot at a new life to give Burroughs another shot at his. The ending of the film is an interesting twist that may raise even more questions, but for me, it actually answered the presence of the second earth, and the purpose of the film. Other viewer experiences may vary.

Another Earth suffers from a few problems, including what many have cited as sloppy camera work and low production values. It’s true that some of the hand- held camera work can be distracting, but at times it gives the film its necessary gritty atmosphere. I enjoyed Brit Marling as Rhoda, perhaps because it reminded me so much of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Winter’s Bone (two long blonde-haired beauties in crappy situations).

Also, what little science the film does present is often contradictory, vague, and leaves many questions unanswered. But isn’t that sometimes the case with science? Have sci-fi movies filled our heads with notions of tightly wrapped packages of information where everything has an answer, and everything can be explained for the sake of the plot? This is hardly ever the case, and I think this film recognizes that great scientific phenomena can occur everyday, but life also continues. Life adapts to science, it adapts to giant planets in the sky, it adapts to discoveries that may pose threats or offer freedom. We’re not all running around trying to find a rock to hide under. SPOILER ALERT: And when Rhoda sees herself from Earth 2, I believe she met a woman who found her second chance, and it didn’t come with a degree from MIT necessarily, but from the ability to adapt to the consequences of choices made, good and bad, and the strength to perservere.

*Inception is a film that has unfortunately suffered some backlash mainly because its intelligence overshadowed pretty much everything else the film had to offer. It’s no easy feat explaining the theory behind “inception,” or even the science behind dreaming itself in a way that an audience can digest quickly and still keep up with the action. And what’s more, such a film will separate sci-fi enthusiasts and the rest of us: “Oh, you didn’t understand the point of the spinning top at the end? I guess you just don’t get it.”

Netflix Instant Pick: Tales from the Script

Every week we recommend a movie we love that is available via Netflix instant view, the greatest thing ever created! Enjoy!

Screenwriters have always held an aura of fascination for me. I usually have visions of them sitting in a bohemian-style studio apartment, probably in New York, puttering away on an old typewriter (typewriters hold a romanticism that computers have yet to possess). They are surrounded by pages and pages of crumpled paper littering the floor. And then finally, they stand up exalted! Call their agent, and send off their finished script knowing full well that every glorious line of delicious, witty dialogue they have concocted will make it to the silver screen.

But we know this rarely, if ever, happens. And if you didn’t know that before, then Tales from the Script will give you the brutal awakening. The film memoir (I call it a memoir because it doesn’t have the feel of a traditional documentary per say), is a collection of stories, thoughts, tips, warnings, and hilarious anecdotes from some of the industry’s best, and perhaps not so well-known writers. It’s set up in a series of chapters, that might as well be called “How to Accept Rejection,” and “How to Deal with Difficult People,” etc. It attempts to run the gamut of the entire process of producing a script, and while some chapters provide ample insight, there were others slightly lacking for me. Nothing is sugarcoated, and the job of writing screenplays is very rarely glorified by anyone. In fact, I believe it was Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) who said no one pursues a “career” in the arts unless there’s no other choice.

It’s always been the notion that artists, screenwriters included, pursue their art out of passion. There can be no other explanation as to why someone would struggle for years to make a living unless they were moved by a force greater than money. But Tales from the Script provides an interesting view into the motivations of screenwriters, and the constant battle between making money and attaining longevity, or sticking with your gut and never working again.

After watching this film, I was convinced that each and every movie is an artistic miracle. With the number of movies produced every year, it’s hard for us as viewers to really appreciate all that goes into making it. For me, the screenwriter is the unsung hero, the master made whipping boy. I say this because after a writer sells their script, they are often bullied out of the process of making their story a movie. Yes, that’s something I had to think about as well. Screenwriters don’t write movies, they write stories that are then turned into movies by filmmakers. And more times than not, a screenwriter must sit back and watch their work get torn to bits, plots altered, characters changed, lines rewritten (sometimes the entire script-by another writer!), and every decision is made with the bottom line in mind.

The central message of Tales from the Script doesn’t make itself known until the very end. Throughout the film we come to understand the screenwriter’s existence as that of a tightrope walker; you can keep your job long enough to make a living by not pissing off the wrong people, and kissing the asses of the right people. Screenwriters, and filmmakers work to make money for studios by producing movies they think people will see regardless of whether or not they are right. But at the end of the film, we are told a very touching story by one screenwriter who learned that his critical and financial flop of a movie changed the life of a woman he met at a party. In that moment, he knew he didn’t make that movie for the studio, or even for himself, he made it for her. And that was enough.

Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Last Temptation of Christ

I recommend watching this film if like me you fancy yourself a wannabe screenwriter/starlet. It provides a variety of different writer experiences from people across the industry, from the seasoned Hollywood salt to the aspiring newbies. Make no mistake though, this film is a series of talking heads, and therefore if you don’t find the inner workings of Hollywood utterly fascinating, then this film isn’t for you. But, should you watch, you’ll be greeted with painful, funny, and meaningful stories that may change the course of your future in screenwriting. Can you imagine pitching a story to Steven Spielberg, over the phone, while he’s parallel parking? Or sitting at a table with Rob Reiner, and listening to Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson read lines from your script right in front of you? Ah, so that’s why they do it…

You can watch Tales from the Script here.

New Blog Series: Film Poster Review

Okay, this idea wasn’t completely my own, but I have no qualms about adopting it as my own. Since we are trying to create a more “professional” looking logo for the Filmhash site, I have been frequenting some design/font websites for inspiration. I stumbled across this pretty cool blog post that reviews film posters: the choice of font, the positioning of images, and how everything comes together in an attempt to whet audience appetites for a particular film.

Ryan and I frequently discuss film posters when new movies are released, so I’m rather surprised we didn’t think of this before. So every Tuesday, we intend on critiquing recent, and classic posters using such criteria as font choice, image placement and design, and whether or not we think the poster is an overall marketing success. Although film is at its core an art form, one would be remiss to exclude the importance of marketing to a film’s success (sadly), and that doesn’t just include summer blockbusters but indie films as well.

And as always, we want to hear from you! Submit your favorite film poster (you know, the one framed in your room for all to see) to filmhash@gmail.com and tell us what you think makes it special!