Movie studios seem to enjoy putting out mixed messages.
Every year they complain about the evils of screeners, yet keep dispatching them in ever greater quantity. If those nasty discs truly provide grist for piracy and inadequately represent the aesthetic quality of their films, why was there a record deluge this year (I personally received roughly 100)? And why were some screeners sent out even before the theatrical release of the films?
To be sure, the legalistic admonitions at the front of every screener are longer this year (and multilingual), as though the lawyers think anyone reads their dire warnings. At least the Academy has given up on those clunky vidplayers dispatched to voters two years ago that supposedly were going to solve the piracy issue.
In any event, having diligently viewed my screeners, I can now testify both to their positives and negatives. On the plus side, catching a movie a second time at home affords me the chance to appreciate a performance I may have overlooked, or even a film score.
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On the other hand, scrutinizing a film on my couch, rather than amid the intensity of a premiere, also brings to mind questions that I’d previously overlooked. Prosaic issues of logic, for example.
- In “I am Legend,” why was Will Smith dropped off alone in virus-ravaged Manhattan? Couldn’t a mini-mission of four or five guys have been mobilized so poor Will would have had someone else to play off besides a dog?
- Who the hell was supposed to be the real Bob Dylan amid all those random actors in “I’m Not There”?
- Though the Los Angeles Times informed us that the lead character in “Into the Wild” was both “rapturous and Elysian … as he dropped off the consumer-conformist treadmill,” what was the real reason impelling Emile Hirsch to wander off into oblivion?
- Did Philip Seymour Hoffman feel he had to put on all that weight for “Charlie Wilson’s War” because his “cover” was the Dept. of Agriculture rather than the CIA?
- Would a pregnant, 16-year-old “Juno” really talk that hip all the time? Every moment she’s popping lines like, “Jocks like freaky girls with horn-rimmed glasses and Goth makeup who play the cello,” or “I hear they give away babies in China like free iPods.”
I liked the movie, but it seemed to me Juno talked more like a 30-year-old ex-stripper trying to make a name for herself as a screenwriter.
- Why did “No Country for Old Men” end with a series of ruminations rather than a resolution of the plot? Did the Coen brothers decide they’d prefer to do a play rather than a movie, or couldn’t they agree on where to take their actors? By the way, I really liked that movie, too.
These questions notwithstanding, I’m appreciative that studios finally changed their minds and sent out all those screeners this year. I caught a lot of movies I normally might have missed — a fact that left me with yet another troubling question:
Most of our “serious” filmmakers this year seemed to reside in a very dark place. Blood was gushing in “Sweeney Todd” like oil in “There Will Be Blood” and there were moments in this year’s crop of war films that could have blended into the “torture porn” genre of “Hostel, Part II.” On one level, I understand all this anger, but wonder whether these filmmakers are trapped in tortuous times or trapped within their own tortured egos.