Whither ReelThoughts?

May 30, 2004
A thought by James Berardinelli

I have received a number of e-mails inquiring whether I have given up on ReelThoughts. The answer is "no," but, in terms of priorities, this column doesn't occupy a high space. With respect to the site, it's in third place, behind reviews of new movies, and Video Views. Throw in real life, however, and it ends up pretty far down the list. Spring is an especially busy time, with yard work, baseball, and all sorts of other activities filling up my schedule. The natural byproduct is that the number of ReelThoughts columns will reach its nadir in the spring, and probably not properly rebound until mid-autumn. One per week will be the average during the summer, but don't hold me to that schedule.

Inquiries abound about when I'm going to publish my promised defense of The Phantom Menace. It's currently #2 on my planned column list, behind a preview of summer movies. Hopefully, the latter will arrive during the next week, so the Phantom Menace piece will be completed towards the middle of June. And, as the election season approaches, I am going to write an occasional political rant. I have never hidden my distaste for George Bush, but I'm no more enamoured with his lackluster opponent. That puts me in the unenviable position of either voting for someone I cannot support, voting for someone who can't win, or not voting. But I digress...

The point is that ReelThoughts is not dead or withering on the vine, but, because it is subject to all of the other things going on in my life, I can't promise that I'll be able to deliver with regularlity. However, whenever I write something new, I will make sure it is indicated on the front pages, so anyone who is interested can find it.

And the Winner Is...?

A while ago, I bemoaned the growing importance of the weekly box office sweepstakes. But even I have to face facts - this isn't going to go away. So, as the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Keeping in mind that how much a movie makes has nothing to do with quality, there are reasons to talk about box office winners and losers, because the success or failure of a film can have an impact upon future projects. As an example, before its release last summer, Hulk was being viewed as the first film of a series. But, when the movie tanked, all bets for a sequel were off. Now, instead of a Hulk 2 being in a planning stage, the would-be franchise is in limbo, as Marvel decides whether to completely re-vamp things and move forward in a different directon or to completely abandon a live-action Hulk movie line.

The three contenders for top spot of summer 2004 are all sequels, and their seemingly inevitable success will mean that there will be more to come. Those films are Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Spider-Man 2. Fearless prognosticator that I am, I believe that Shrek 2 will come out on top (this isn't Monday morning quarterbacking, since I made this same prediction - to many jeers - in the company of witnesses over a month ago). Spider-Man 2 will place second, while Harry Potter will come in third.

The stunning failure of Troy has already placed Wolfgang Petersen's future projects in question. Based on past performance, Petersen was given free reign on the epic, but its poor box office performance (coupled with soaring production costs) has made him a questionable commodity. One doubts Petersen will ever again get close to this much money to play with.

By their nature, big budget motion pictures cannot be "sleepers," so, for a "little engine that could," it's necessary to go to the independent ranks. Obviously, the title to bear the crown for the year is The Passion of the Christ, which has proven that Jesus is big box office. However, for the summer, it's probably Open Water, the low-budget Sundance success about trying to survive in shark infested waters. Lions Gate is opening the film on 2000+ screens in August, and, if the advertising campaign is well-managed, this movie could do Blair Witch type business. And maybe it will keep people out of the water over Labor Day weekend.

More Moore

So Fahrenheit 9/11 is close to having a distributor. Apparently, there's a bidding war going on, so Michael Moore and the Weinsteins didn't do all that badly after all. They'll make a killing on the film. But that wasn't really their goal in the first place, was it? Their true motives were to get this out in the public so that the truth about the Bush administration could be exposed, right? If you believe that, you can also accept that oil had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq.

The fact is, if all Moore and the Miramax boys cared about was getting the message out to the largest number of people, they could eat the $6 million production cost and put the thing on-line where everyone could download it for free. The fact is, however, that while there's little doubt that Harvey and Michael want George W. out of office, they're just as interested in lining their pockets. There's nothing wrong with that - it's the American way. I just wish they would come out and admit it rather than acting like martyrs to the Democratic cause.

I'm not going to talk about the movie because I haven't seen it. But I'm dubious about the belief that it will impact the November elections. Unless it contains stunning new revelations (which, based on the accounts coming out of Cannes, it does not), it's not likely to generate more than a blip on the evening news. Moore's faithful will flock to see the film, generating sold out showings, but those are the people who were going to vote against Bush to begin with. I doubt that many middle-of-the-roaders are going to see the film (they mostly don't frequent theaters to begin with, and a documentary isn't likely to be the catalyst to overcome that obstacle). So, although some minds will probably be changed (depending on how persuasive Moore is to an undecided voter), the total number will almost certainly be small enough to be absorbed in the statistical noise.

More on this movie (much more) when I finally see it, which will be in another month. At that time, I will be able to assess, based on content, what the film has to offer.

A Few Good Things

Some of the best DVDs fly low under the radar. They aren't well-advertised and they definitely cannot be found in a local Blockbuster or Best Buy. Two such recent releases are Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. Expanded versions of two of the most compelling chapters of Decalogue (Parts 5 and 6, respectively), these films were never released theatrically in the United States. A few dedicated movie-goers have seen them in festivals, but it's a shame that such powerful cinematic fare should go relatively unnoticed.

Kino Video has given them Special Edition treatment (although they are not advertised as such). Killing includes three interviews, a video essay, and a Kieslowski short ("A Night Porter's Point of View," from 1977). Love provides three interviews and "Tramway," a 1966 short. However, although the special features are nice additions, the real thing to treasure is the long-awaited availability of these titles. At $30, they are a little pricey, but for those who appreciate Kieslowski, well worth the purchase price (or at least a rental from Netflix). Even for those who have seen Decalogue, these stand-alone movies are worth the effort to see - especially A Short Film About Love, which features a different ending that changes one's perspective of the entire masterful motion picture.