Friday Movie Roundup: Business Is Good ... But Are the Movies

May 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Nearly 30 years ago, in an essay entitled “Why Are Movies So Bad? Or, the Numbers,” film critic Pauline Kael wrote that “the movies have been so rank the last couple years that when I see people lining up to buy tickets I sometimes think that the movies aren’t drawing an audience — they’re inheriting an audience. They’re stung repeatedly, yet their desire for a good movie — for any movie — is so strong that all over the country they keep lining up.” —-

Kael correctly predicted the impact that conglomerate-owned movie companies would have on the business: bottom line became everything, a creativity-averse belief that has only grown more acute as production and marketing costs have skyrocketed over the years.

I sometimes wonder if an entire generation of moviegoers has come to expect mediocrity from its movies. Even worse is the possibility that they might not know the difference or even care. A glance at last weekend’s box-office grosses reveals that X-Men spin-off Wolverine brought in $87 million despite poor reviews, unhappy fanboys and the availability of a pirated version on the Internet. Sure, Hugh Jackman was the best thing about the three X-Men films, but $87 million? Put into perspective: Wolverine made more in one day than the entire combined theatrical runs of eight films on my 2008 Top 10 list. (In fairness, six of my 10 didn’t even get a local theatrical release, but that’s another story. Ah, the price of being an arty bastard.)

Yes, the development that led Kael to retire in the early 1990s — that most movies were no longer worthy of discerning moviegoers’ time — is even truer today. The silver lining to this depressing situation? While less communal and less immersive in a sensory sense, we now have the ability to experience movies — essentially to curate to our own tastes via pristine digital formats played on elaborate home entertainment systems — from the comfort of our couch, a fact Kael could only dream of when her prescient essay was published in 1980.

As for this week’s releases, it’s actually a pretty intriguing crop. (I’ve yet to catch any of the opening films, a problem I intend to rectify over the weekend.)

Opening films:

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL — You don’t have to give 2 cents about Heavy Metal music to appreciate Sacha Gervasi's joyous and touching documentary about charismatic Canadian musicians Steve “Lips” Kudlow and Robb Reiner, who for 35 years have held onto their dream of making it big with their Rock band Anvil. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens today at Esquire, which is also hosting a midnight screening on Saturday after which the band will be on hand for a live performance.) — Cole Smithey (Not Rated.) Grade: A

IS ANYBODY THERE? — John Crowley’s coming-of-age black comedy features Michael Caine as Clarence, a senile, retired magician who takes up residence in an English seaside nursing home run by a married couple approaching middle age. Word is that Caine gives a superior performance, a fact that is usually the case no matter the quality of material. Let’s hope Is Anybody There is worthy of the enduring actor’s skills. (Opens today at Esquire and Mariemont theaters.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.)

NEXT DAY AIR — Ludicrously named music video director Benny Boom makes his feature film debut with this crime comedy about a misplaced package containing bricks of uncut cocaine. Stars Donald Faison, Mos Def, Mike Epps and Debbie Allen. (Opens wide Friday.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon

STAR TREK — This is not your parents (or grandparent’s) version of Star Trek. This first J.J. Abrams installment has added testosterone without the steroid rage that might come from a dependence on CGI for its own bulk-creating sake. (Read full-length review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated PG-13.) Grade: A