Big Hitter: Superman, Iron Man, and Thoughts on Today's Film Culture

What I'm Seeing This WeekBrothers, Leap Year, and The Princess and the Frog.

The thing that intrigues me about Brothers is that Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal actually do look like brothers. I suppose that old rumor about Jake Gyllenhaal taking over for Spider-Man now makes complete sense. They're dopplegangers.

I don't know what to make of Leap Year. The trailer looks dreadful, but they are showing us the film a month early, and usually that's a good sign. As for The Princess and the Frog, I'm hoping it will be a return to form for Disney Animation. They used to be the best in the business; no one would dare challenge them. Remember those days? This guy was massive back then.

What I Saw Last Week

I caught A Single Man and Up in the Air, both likely Best Picture nominees. Both were good, though we seem to be caught in a cycle of "good" for 2009. I had Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire, Tropic Thunder, and Doubt in my top 10 last year -- all of those would make my top five this year. As of now the best film I've seen this year is either In the Loop or Inglourious Basterds. Sure, there have been a few interesting failures (Knowing, The Box), but the upper level of 2009 has yet to present itself.

Notable Articles

Anne Thompson on the future of the Superman franchise.

Today's Movie Stories on the Internets

Robert Downey Jr. helped rewrite Iron Man 2.

Deep Thought of the Week

Back in July of 2009, Cameron Diaz spoiled The Box for me. It was a throwaway comment at Comic-Con -- she was answering questions with director Richard Kelly and co-star James Marsden. She made a comment about a prominent third act reveal. Marsden and Kelly stared at her in horror and quickly changed the subject. The whole thing lasted maybe five seconds, and I have no idea how many other people noticed it. But when I attended The Box I knew something that the marketing team and Warner Bros. had done their level best to keep secret.

As it turned out, it didn't matter much. I liked the film ... but it was savaged by critics and made about $20 bucks (OK, OK, $14 million) at the theater.

But it got me to thinking about the current marketing/release construct. Consider:

1) Films are marketed early and often, at film festivals and conventions.

2) Cross promotion exists with every major release, from burger chains to beer sponsorships.

3) Websites breathlessly report on new posters, trailers, infighting, casting, and development deals.

4) Putting up a negative review on a great film gets you outsized attention, putting up a positive review on a terrible film gets you outsized attention.

My longish point is this: we are a film culture that knows too much. The mystery is gone. A film is judged and discarded by the end of opening weekend. And by then it already feels like it has been around too long. Everyone currently has an opinion on Avatar even though no one has actually seen Avatar. We've all either watched the trailer, or 60 Minutes interviewing James Cameron, or interacted with the, er, "interactive trailer" or perhaps attended the special "Avatar Day" promotion. We know it has a huge budget, we know it's CG, we know it could "revolutionize 3-D!!" We know these things because we want to know them, because we're hungry and curious for intel and hype in a world where sports and movies are the go-to conversation pieces. But because of that very human need for acceptance we're also weathered and cynical. Avatar can't possibly surprise us, not after years of news on it. Cameron can't possibly sneak up on us, not after hours of film and barrels of ink have been spilled on his behalf. With 100 voices within a click we're bound to come across one that says, "Egh, about what I expected. Whatever."

Titanic spent four months in a row at the number one box office spot in 1997 and 1998. This will never happen again. Too much competition, too much communication, too much frontloading. No other film in the past two decades has even managed seven consecutive weekends in a row. In getting exactly what we want, at all times, we've also left behind the ability to be pleasantly surprised. And sooner or later that's going to be a bad thing.

* The counterbalance to this seems to be the Slumdog Millionaire/Precious model of release. By enforcing scarcity at a limited amount of theaters and then shooting for an Oscar nomination (or win) you can have two life cycles with your film. But it should be noted that while Slumdog Millionaire did clear $377 million worldwide, it never won a weekend overall. This method is extremely effective in getting a smaller film into huge numbers, but doesn't have much to do with the tentpole projects that dominate our consciousness.

Early Box Office Take

This should be the weekend The Blind Side triumphs at the box office, a very rare happening for a film in its third weekend of wide release. But it just keeps getting stronger, like Rocky against Ivan Drago.

Videos For You

Both songs inspired the "Deep Thought" of the day, so they're (of course) somewhat downtrodden. First up, Paramore with "Misguided Ghosts."

I'll get you out of here with a snippet from Sad Brad Smith's "Help Yourself" from the Up in the Air soundtrack.

Note: You can listen to the whole song by clicking here.