Friday Movie Roundup: Digital Revolution Edition

Once upon a time people would go to grandiose, darkened theaters to watch images projected on large screens via illuminated strips of film.

Those days are all but over.

Initially altered by the late-’70s advent of platter projection — not to mention that same era's movie-magic-eroding advent of cable TV and home-video players — film culture is now going through a sea change as theaters of every stripe move to digital projection, a turnabout that has had more of an impact than might meet the eye.—-

While technological advances have made it cheaper and easier to procure and project movies, the result is often a compromised, less satisfying moviegoing experience. Actual humans are no longer needed to present a movies — old-school projectionists are being replaced by “manjectionists” who essentially push a button to start a movie and then leave the booth — which means vital and relatively simple issues like correct focus, ideal illumination, damaged screens and more are no longer attended to as diligently.

Worse, most audiences don't seem to know and/or care. Decades of mediocre multiplex viewing have lowered our collective expectations — both in terms of the technical aspects of the moviegoing experience and the quality of films being made by Hollywood and beyond.

The situation is complicated further when one injects the radically changing context in which we now watch movies. When one's home-viewing experience, via big-screen HD TVs and booming stereo sound-systems, often exceeds the theatrical experience, it's hard to blame audiences for their lowered expectations and changing viewing habits. Throw in those who are content to watch movies on tiny hand-held devices from cellphones to iPods, and there's no going back.

Some distributors, like Magnolia and IFC, have decided to join the revolution rather than fight it. Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, an intriguing horror satire Steven Rosen reviews here, is simultaneously being distributed by Magnolia in theaters and via video on demand (locally through Time Warner Cable).

Unfortunately for old-school film geeks like me who prefer the communal theatrical experience to the far less immersive and sensory-stimulating small-format options, Cincinnatians don't have a choice — our local art houses, which most often would host the indie films proffered by Magnolia and IFC, have a policy of not booking films available simultaneously made available via video on demand.

Making matters more damning is that I don't have Time Warner Cable, which means I can't watch Rubber unless I go to a friend's house that does. DirectTV nor Netflix, my providers of choice (for now), apparently don't have contracts with Magnolia or IFC, the latter of which is offering the best array of indie films (from Carlos to White Material) that will not be coming to a theater or television screen near me.)

Why does this stuff have to be so complicated?

Now on to the films that are currently playing local movie houses.

Opening films:

AFRICAN CATS — The nature documentaries just keep coming, the latest centering on several cheetahs and lions trying to survive on the African savanna. Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill co-direct what is the third release from Disneynature. Samuel L. Jackson narrates. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated G.) Review coming soon.

TRUST — David Schwimmer's sophomore effort as a director is a tour de force of socially relevant dramatic filmmaking. Clearly a labor of love for Schwimmer and his outstanding ensemble, Trust comes at you from all angles. Gifted newcomer Liana Liberato's performance as 14-year-old Annie Cameron is nothing short of astonishing. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: A

TYLER PERRY'S MADEA'S BIG HAPPY FAMILY — The busiest man in movies — well, besides Woody Allen, who should really think about slowing down — is at it again with this adaptation of his own stage play in which Madea (Perry) interacts with his/her “big happy family.” The cast for Perry's 11th(!) feature film includes Bow Wow, Loretta Divine, Cassi Davis and Shannon Kane. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS — Sara Gruen's best-selling novel gets the big-screen treatment courtesy of director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Living Out Loud) ace cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, Brokeback Mountain) and a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook and Paul Schnieder. The Depression-era story concerns a veterinary student (Pattinson) who, after his parents are killed, abandons his studies to join a circus where he meets a beautiful equestrian star (Witherspoon) and an elephant named Rosie. Fox 2000 Pictures has decided not to screen this in advance for critics, which is a mighty curious move for such a high-profile project. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.

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