A Few Thoughts While I Wait…

I have to wonder if Relativity Media and the producers of Machine Gun Preacher realize just how much those us who are looking forward to the film, are in fact looking forward to it.

While I’m sure they’d rather that everyone were in that number, it is a testament to not only Gerard Butler’s popularity and his abilities as an actor, but to our faith in his abilities. Let’s face it, he hasn’t given us a lot of reason to hope the past few years. While I personally am as supportive as I can be, and try to look beyond the surface and see the reasons behind some of his choices lately, I’m not the norm. I’m not one of those who found him with 300 and expected that’s what I was going to get from then on. Nor was I among those who could only see him as Gerry Kennedy etc etc.

No, there is a contingent – a strong core of his fanbase that have been waiting for something meaty, something to showcase his dramatic abilities that we’ve known were there since at least “The Jury” or Dear Frankie.

Much like the man himself (I suspect), we want him to be seen as something more than a pretty face or a slab of beefcake. We want him to be considered for the same types of roles as a Russell Crowe or a Clive Owen, not just the Jason Stathams.

We are all literally chomping at the bit to see Machine Gun Preacher, and Coriolanus, ready and willing to support these fims in any way we can, not just with a single ticket purchase. This is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s finally happening: the recognition, the critical acclaim, etc.

In a way, all of that is as much for us, as it is for G and the film makers whether they know it or not. We’re being vindicated and rewarded for our faith.

So, if the producers don’t know how much those of us who are looking forward to the film, are in fact looking forward to it, they’re about to find out. As I type this, fans all over the country are petitioning, via emails and phone calls, their local theaters in order to get them to bring in Machine Gun Preacher. I have no doubt that on some level it will work. It worked (to a degree) five years ago when fans of Gerard Butler secured a limited US release for Beowulf and Grendel. This time around, there’s a much bigger machine running in the background.

Okay, all of that is well and good, but what exactly are we to do about the perception of the press and so called critics?

Can someone please explain this to me? Machine Gun Preacher, a movie I have admittedly and obviously been looking forward to seeing, on the morning of its release in only two markets, LA and NY, is sitting at a “rotten” 19% from the critics (of 32 submitted reviews, only 6 were favorable, and I’m betting the consensus from their peers has already started to make them rethink their positions), but it stood at 78% with audience members. As of this writing it has moved up to 22% with critics and 80% with audiences. Moviefone stood at 90% with the audience and 47% with critics. What. The. Hell?!?

In case you think my bias toward this movie is too strong, let me give another example. Killer Elite is a film that boasts a cast that includes Robert DeNiro, Jason Statham and Clive Owen. It is just as much fun as you would expect a movie version of 'spy vs spy' to be and the opinions of others should not be allowed to suck the fun out of it for anyone. One critic, who has a considerable reputation and has been at this for a number of years said that the climactic fight scene between Statham and Owen “happened so fast” that she couldn’t tell “who was doing what to whom”. How could a critic of her standing so totally miss the point? It didn't matter who was “doing what to whom” because there would be no ‘winner’ nor no clear ‘loser’, just like it is never clearly defined who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. My point in mentioning all of this is that Rotten Tomatoes had this movie at 26% with critics and 80% with the audience.

How can the pendulum of opinion between a film’s audience and the critics swing so widely for the same movie? I know I’ve talked about this before, but come on, there has to be a reason and I’m going to keep looking for it until I find it.

Does buying a ticket to a movie and sitting in the theater with fellow paying members of the audience predispose one to more favorably view a movie and forgive its flaws?

Or does assuming the mantle of “critic” and having a movie screened for you, perhaps make you feel it necessary to be more harsh; because the ticket is free, is there an obligation to try to avoid the appearance of pandering?

What we need to bear in mind here, whenever we come upon a review, is that any review, I don’t care whose name is on it, is one person’s opinion and we’re all entitled to have one.

So called professional critics are paid (and I don’t care if you’ve got a day job or not, if you write a review and are given any sort of compensation for it, be it a ticket to a screening or that mousepad with a film’s logo on it that you got in the mail from Warner Brothers, that makes you a paid professional) to give you theirs and some may be better than others at articulating why they feel as they do about a certain film, but ultimately it is their opinion.

The internet has created a new breed of movie critic and allowed them to proliferate. Everyone and their brother, myself included, has a movie blog and is willing to offer their opinions to the world. Some have been at it for a long time, some are more widely read than others but it is amazing to me, how many people out there are willing to give them all equal weight.

When did we stop thinking for ourselves? Am I a dinosaur because I remember the days before the internet when we let the previews before a movie in the theater or an ad on tv give us a taste of what was out there and we based our decisions on what to see accordingly? I don’t recall seeing a greater percentage of ‘bad’ movies before I had access to this deluge of information and opinion. The good news is that the majority of those people who have been thinking for themselves seem to have been enjoying themselves at the movies. 

While I realize this is teetering on the verge of becoming a full on rant, there is one more issue I want to vent my spleen about. (To be honest I’ve been doing it all weekend by leaving comments on sites and by tweeting the facts.)

Machine Gun Preacher opened in New York and Los Angeles on two screens in each city. That’s a total of FOUR. You don't compare its earnings to Moneyball or Killer Elite or A Dolphin's Tale all of which got releases so wide their screens number in the thousands. Each. You can legitimately compare it to Puncture, starring Capt. America Chris Evans which also opened on 4 screens and made $35,700 or $8,952 per screen.

MGP had a higher per screen total than all of the top 5 grossing films. That actually makes it the number one movie in the country by percentage. Do you think it was reported that way? No it was not.

BOTH of the following ridiculous comments came from "Entertainment Weekly", from two different posted articles by two different writers:

This one came from John Young, posted Saturday September 24: “In limited release, the Gerard Butler action film Machine Gun Preacher mustered only $10,000 at four theaters. ”

As I asked them at their site, I’m wondering exactly how much money the author of this article thinks Machine Gun Preacher should have made on FOUR screens in one day?

This one was posted on Sunday September 25. The numbers are correct. It’s the interpretation that I have a problem with.

“In limited release, the action biopic Machine Gun Preacher — starring Gerard Butler as real-life biker-turned-defender-of-Sudanese-orphans Sam Childers — underwhelmed with $44,000 at four theaters.”

How exactly is $11,000 per screen UNDERwhelming? Again I asked the writer, “What would, in your estimation, constitute a successful weekend on four screens?”

This, JMHO, is blatant bias. I just don’t know toward whom. Is it Gerard Butler? Is it the director, Marc Forster? Surely it’s not the King of All Hollywood, my bff Ryan Kavanaugh or Relativity Media? Is it Virgin Produced? Oh I know! It’s Sam Childers and his foundation, Angels of East Africa! These people are all on the payroll of Joseph Kony and the LRA!


You explain it then. Me, I’m just counting down until Friday when I can see it for myself.

J. Edgar DiCaprio Knows All Your Secrets!

A Clint Eastwood film and a new Leonardo DiCaprio film are both usually something I'd get excited about. Given that this time they are one and the same, I'm doubly excited. Warner Brothers has finally released a first trailer for their big awards season pony, the Clint Eastwood directed biopic, J. Edgar, about the life of America's number one 'G-Man', J. Edgar Hoover. Leonardo Di Caprio plays the legendary lawman with able help from Judi Dench as Hoover's mother, Anne Marie, Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover's right-hand man who may or may not have been his long-time companion, to use a semi-retired euphemism, Naomi Watts as Hoover's trusted secretary Helen Gandy along with a host of other actors playing figures from the history covered by Hoover's forty + year reign as the nation's top cop.

The official synopsis: As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

Warners skipped the festival circuit with this one, either because they knew they had a hit so why spend the money or just the opposite. There are too many things in their favorite for it to be the latter. The trailer is impressive. It looks like classic Eastwood, (although sorry Leo, all I see and hear is you, not the character), but one thing that struck me is the decision to open it with scenes of Hoover and his mother. Undoubtedly this relationship is central to the story and to the man that Hoover will become, but Anne Marie Hoover telling her young son that he will grow up to be the most powerful man in Amerca for some reason immediately brought to mind another DiCaprio biopic,Martin Scorcese’s The Aviator, that opened with scenes of a young Howard Hughes being scrubbed by his obsessive compulsive mother.It just seems to reinforce the sterotype that it's always mom's fault. (Whatever "it" may be.)

I'm thinking now that the lid is off the box, we'll be getting more trailers and clips in the run up to the film's November 9 release. It will play the AFI Film Festival where it has been selected as the opening film just days before its release to theaters. Watch this space for more.

I Take It All Back!

It's obvious that it is Relativity Media's intention to give us a little nibble nearly every day until the release of Marc Forster's Machine Gun Preacher on September 23. If I ever doubted the wisdom of waiting, it was only out of frustration because I personally had been waiting for a look at this movie since it was announced in early 2010. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have realized that waiting until only a month before the release to do a big push generates curiosity and creates a buzz, the kind of buzz that is enveloping this film going into tonight's gala presentation in Toronto.

If the producers had given us what we thought we wanted, the rest of the film-going public very well might have grown tired of hearing about MGP and Gerard Butler and Sam Childers. The public is fickle like that. If I know that, you can be damn sure that the wizards behind the curtain working the gears of the publicity machine know it.  (There are a lot of actors/film makers with more than one movie screening at TIFF this year, most getting a big end-of-the-year push. "Saturation Syndrome" could happen to any one of them.) 

I never really doubted you Mr. Kavanaugh…

Here's our first look at Michael Shannon as Donnie (I'm thinking he's probably not going to be very supportive of Sam's new lifestyle)…

Here's a B-Roll of Behind-the-Scenes footage…

I think after TIFF, Machine Gun Preacher is going to be on the map BIG TIME. I can’t wait to hear about tonight's event (and see the pics, who’m I kidding?) In the meantime, enjoy this collection of soundbites as Gerard Butler talks about the film:

Of course, all of the above is merely an excuse to post these pics. Blue Boy Redux…

Thanks to http://www.gerardbutlergals.com/ for the pics!

Of Germs and Men…

Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, is supposed to be a horror story about a monster we can’t actually see, a virus that is travelling so quickly that it’s reaching pandemic proportions in a matter of weeks or even days. What Jaws did for beaches, Contagion aims to do for shaking hands and public transportation. (There’s even a reference made to Jaws in the script).

The movie is a product of the writing-directing team of  Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns, who brought us The Informant! and seems less like Outbreak, a more conventionally scary medical thriller, with monkeys as villains, than like a tv movie of the week made specifically for TLC (pre-Gosslin) or NatGeo, except you recognize everyone in it. This movie’s cast is insane, especially considering that the majority of them are only making glorified cameos. I don’t want to provide spoilers, but even the trailer gave away that Gwyneth Paltrow is gone pretty early (and in the one truly gruesome scene proceeds to scare the bejeebers out of a pathology team during the autopsy) and is then seen mostly in flashback or in what are prerecorded images for the characters in the film. A few of the roles are defined; most are not. We are never sure who’s supposed to be a “good” guy or a “bad” guy or who we’re supposed to believe. Jude Law's character, a Julian Assange crossed with TMZ-esque blogger (there is actually a line in the movie: “bloggers aren’t writers, they’re graffiti artists with punctuation.”) with a large following,  and whose face appears throughout the film plastered on posters labeled 'Prophet' may or may not be a snake-oil salesman. He's seductive, especially to the conspiracy theorist in me. He's almost creepier than the virus…but is he wrong? The film cleverly makes use of the word viral’s other meaning. Law’s unscrupulous blogger instigates suspicion and promotes conspiracy theories, championing an untested homeopathic treatment for the disease that may or may not have “cured” him.

There is no clearly defined ending in terms of the characters because they don’t have typical story arcs.  (I found it odd that they even have names listed next to the actors in the credits. They aren’t introduced and their names may not even be mentioned.) Kate Winslet is seen providing a lot of medical information as exposition. (Thank goodness for white boards!) Elliott Gould is seen scowling and spouting medical terminology that the lay person couldn’t possibly understand (although that’s not the point) and then he’s gone. Marion Cotillard disappears at the end of the first reel and doesn’t come back until the end. We’re not exactly sure how long she’s been gone or what she was doing or whether or not she was a willing participant and we certainly don’t know what happens to her at the end of the film.

It is well crafted. I liked Soderbergh's technical style, I always have. From the ominously tight close-ups of a hand on a bus pole or in a bowl of bar peanuts, a credit card being swiped and then the use of those ubiquitous touch screens, we learn that it's anything and everything that we come in contact with that's really terrifying. There’s nothing fictitious about this, it could happen. The script does not sensationalize the disease, nor its transmission or methods of treatment and control,  all of which was reportedly based on real scientific methods. The film provides context by comparing this fictional virus (MEV-1) to those we’ve actually encountered in recent years like SARS, the swine flu and H1N1. There are several references to the perception that health officials may have over-reacted to the H1N1 scare, so why should anyone believe them now?

JMHO, but I found the human beings themselves and their reactions to the epidemic much scarier than the virus. The film uses Paltrow’s character’s husband as a kind of control. (If she was patient zero, Mitch, played by Matt Damon, was kind of ‘survivor zero’) He and his teenage daughter (Anna Jacoby-Heron) spend most of the movie holed up inside their house, quarantined, as the world around them becomes a chaotic nightmare of looting and Internet-fueled panic.

Speaking of the internet, Scenes that seem calculated to instill fear like the shots of panicking shoppers stocking up on bottled water and hand sanitizer or storming pharmacies and even government-run food programs, and most especially of people coughing without covering their mouths – were met with not with gasps, or even nervous laughter, but with silence. I found that especially odd considering that just minutes before several people in the theater were coughing or clearing their throats. I know that realistically, this is little protection just because I can’t see these people or the germs they are sending my way, but it’s one of the many reasons I sit in the front row.

Bottom line, it wasn’t the gripping, edge-of-your seat thrill ride the trailer promised, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Rather than a horror movie it was almost a war movie. The “action” takes place in the lab, complete with selfless acts of bravery. (Jennifer Ehle, as calm and clinical CDC researcher Dr. Ally Hextall, ironically also has the most emotionally-charged scene. Hextall’s father so completely understands the depth of the sacrifice that she’s made, he makes us feel it too.) It’s a wordy, cerebral and, JMHO, realistic, war fought by bureaucrats and medical professionals.

   (out of 5)

If Gainsborough Were Painting Today…

…he might have a new muse.

Of course, the point of this post isn't solely to marvel over the cerulean-covered consummation of male perfection (not solely). Oh no, my friends, the point of this post is to continue, in my own small (and perhaps insignificant) way, to talk up Marc Forster's Machine Gun Preacher.

I find it difficult to believe that anyone reading this blog wouldn't know what the film was about, but on the off chance that someone stumbled in here from the Tardis or is just back from an extended vacation in outer Mongolia, I'll tell you. Machine Gun Preacher is based on the life of the Rev. Sam Childers (Butler), one bad-ass sonofabitch, who experiences a religious conversion, and feels called by God to go to Africa to help build houses and ends up building orphanages and rescuing children forced to become soldiers for the Sudanese rebels.

While G may have (probably does have, given all of the pre-release buzz) a role that will finally give him the recognition and respect he deserves as a dramatic actor, let's not forget he's also a producer. Without him, this story may not have been told. JMHO, but if the film does nothing else but shine a light on a struggling and war-ravaged part of the world that could really use some attention from the rest of it, then the whole thing will have been worth it.

The cast is in Toronto as we speak, gearing up for the gala screening on Sunday night, September 11 at Roy Thomson Hall as an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival. Today, fulfilling the first of many obligations I'm sure, they posed for some pictures. Present and accounted for were Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, director Marc Forster and oddly, Chris Cornell. (I know he recorded the "official" song for the soundtrack. Don't get me started on THAT, but I'm surprised he's at the Festival in support of the film. Good for him.)

This clip is called “Build It Again”. Any thoughts I had that Michelle Monaghan wouldn’t be tough enough to play Lynne Childers (Vera Farmiga was originally cast, but her pregnancy would have prevented her from travelling to Africa) have fallen by the wayside with the stills and clips we’re getting.

Machine Gun Preacher opens in NY and LA on September 23 and will open wider on September 30. It's been well over a year and a half that I've been looking forward to this. I already have my (first) ticket!

Thanks for reading and your indulgence. Here's some pics of ‘our’ "blue boy". You know you want 'em.