Paying for Theaters vs Waiting for Netflix

Over the weekend, I watched Obvious Child on DVD, and it was one of those rare movies that I wished someone had frog-marched me to the theater for. It got a lot of press at the time as the “abortion comedy” (the way Brokeback Mountain was the “gay cowboy movie“) and, though I supported that in theory, the film seemed like something I could wait to enjoy later. No. NO. I was wrong. The film was so funny, so poignant and interesting and smart, that I wish I could have shelled out the $13 to see it then so I could evangelize for it and maybe convince other people to shell out $13 each to see it too.

Usually I’m fine waiting for the red envelope. Gravity, which everyone swore you had to pony up to see on the big screen? The couch was fine. 12 Years a Slave? Even better, because I could press pause when my heart was beating too hard and I needed to calm down. The downside of waiting, of course, is an inability to participate in the cultural conversation; but sometimes listening to the conversation is sufficient. In the case of 12 Years a Slave, what would I have had to add? My four word film review would have been “Slavery bad. Performances good.” Definitely worth two cents, that.

But Obvious Child acted on me like a stimulant, like last year’s In A World …, another surprising breakthrough feminist indie comedy I regretted having waited to see on DVD. I wish I had gotten it together to buy full-price, as it were, because both films could have used that kind of word-of-mouth support. My money could have meant something, maybe. It coulda been a contender.

Now I have to wonder what else is coming out this fall that I will regret not seeing in theaters. If only $13 didn’t feel like a lot of money and/or if only I felt rich enough to spend $13 whenever I wanted.

Empathetic Personal Robots! $2000, Available Soon

The future is today. Okay, more precisely, the future is two years from now, when the first empathetic humanoid robots go on sale, and they’re kind of a bargain:

robots that can recognize human emotion will change the way we live and communicate — and this is a big step towards getting bots into daily lives, at least if you live in Japan. The robots will debut at two stores tomorrow in their customer service capacity, but Softbank is planning to put them on sale to the public next year, priced just shy of $2,000.

The adorable little tyke’s name is Pepper, which is pleasantly gender-neutral, yet spunky. This calls for a top-ten list of fictional robots:

10. Small Wonder (“Small Wonder”)

9. Data (“Star Trek”)

8. R2D2 and C3PO (Star Wars)

7. The Terminator (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

6. The Buffy Bot

5. Johnny 5 (Short Circuit)

4. HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey)

3. Marvin the Paranoid Android (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

2. Maria (Metropolis)

1. WALL-E (WALL-E)

Runners up: Rosie from “The Jetsons,” that creepy kid from A.I., Optimus Prime, the Iron Giant, all of the Replicants from Blade Runner

How Much Is a Diet Coke Worth?

Ester: Hi Meaghan! Happy May. Meaghan:Hello! Yes it’s so nice out. I wore a dress with no leggings to the doctor this morning and was suddenly reminded that thigh chafe exists. Spring at last! Ester: Spring! And what better way that celebrate than GOING TO THE MOVIES. Meaghan: It’s a beautiful day to sit indoors. Ester: It’s always a beautiful day to sit indoors. That’s the magic of cinema. But -- and this is the saddest part about being a parent, so beware -- I don’t get to do it that much anymore. Meaghan: But when you do, do you really DO IT UP? i.e., spend $1,000 on popcorn?

Can God Make It In Hollywood? Crunching the Numbers

Looking to the premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming epic film Noah, starring Russell Crowe and The Lord, possibly in that order, the New York Times asks, “Can God Make It In Hollywood?” Religious movies do not always make it past the gatekeepers, and even when they do, they often fall flat with audiences, since viewers would rather watch cars go vroom! and robots go pow! than somber, toga-wearing men in beards talk about sin. The Times reports:

Once, studios routinely made movies with overtly religious themes for the mainstream audience. Classics like “The Ten Commandments,” “Quo Vadis” and “A Man for All Seasons” — each of which was nominated for a best picture Oscar — were box-office winners with a wide range of viewers. But after years of neglect or occasional hostility, the question now is whether Hollywood can still find common ground with religious audiences.

So, is God box office poison? I decided to investigate, using sophisticated analytic measures: I typed “God” into the search engine at Box Office Mojo. Here is what I found:

• The highest-grossing movie with “God” in the title is Godzilla (1998) which has made $136,000,000 worldwide since its release. The wrathful, rampaging character of Godzilla is not that different from the world-destroying character of God in the Noah story, come to think of it.

• The next three highest-grossing movies with “God” in the title are The Godfather, The Godfather Part III, and The Godfather Part II, which is funny since if you ask an aficionado s/he will probably say that Part II is the best film, followed by the original. Also funny: The Godfather has made a whopping $135,000,000 which is more than its two sequels put together. (Sequels! Turns out they are not always the surest and most profitable bet.)

• Next comes a comedy from 1977 called Oh, God! that I’ve never heard of, and I was a Film major. It made $40,000,000 domestically, which is roughly the advertising budget of a movie like Transformers.

Perhaps the Times is right? Or perhaps I am going about this the wrong way.

Class Consciousness In Kids’ Books

Last night I read the children's book Corduroy to babygirl for the 15,000th time. A small bear in green overalls wanders a department store at night looking for his lost button, because that button represents everything that is out of his reach: love and acceptance, family, security, home. He is rescued by a girl, Lisa, who believes in his potential so much that she empties out her piggy bank for him. Once she and Corduroy have settled in her bedroom, she sews on a new button for him, not because he needs it but because he'll be more comfortable with his strap fastened. And then they share a big hug.

The Female Sociopath: Myth or Monster? Mythic Monster?

Recent Billfold chatter Merve Emre has a new piece up on Digg about the explosion of female sociopaths in pop culture, from books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl) to TV (House of Cards, Damages) and beyond.

And so we lean in to the cultural logic of the female sociopath, for she is the apotheosis of the cool girl power that go-getter “feminists” have peddled to frustrated women over the last half-decade. The female sociopath doesn’t want to upend systems of gender inequality, that vast and irreducible constellation of institutions and beliefs that lead successful women like Gillian Flynn to decree that certain women, who feel or behave in certain ways, are “dismissible.” The female sociopath wants to dominate these systems from within, as the most streamlined product of a world in which well-intentioned people blithely invoke words like arbitrage, leverage, capital, and currency to appraise how successfully we inhabit our bodies, our selves.

Emre’s using language very deliberately here: she starts a paragraph about feminism with Sheryl Sandberg’s motto “lean in” and ends with a nod to that hippie empowerment classic “our bodies, ourselves.” Even though she says here that “the female sociopath doesn’t want to upend systems of gender inequality,” later, she goes on to explore the idea that “as female sociopaths, these women are winning battles that benefit all women, everywhere, in their fight for equality.” In other words, sociopathy = feminism, taken to a logical extreme! Women become sociopaths to succeed, and even if they’re not doing it FOR feminism, it benefits feminism. I’m … not sure about that?

Movies Make $2 Billion in 2014 So Far Thanks in Part to Women and Children

Writing checks, it is still remarkably easy to slip up and write “2013.” Winter continues its gleefully brutal assault on much of the United States. The new year seems to have hardly begun — and yet, in these mewling kitten days of 2014, Hollywood has already collected $2 billion, Box Office Mojo reports:

As of Sunday, total domestic box office earnings have surpassed $2 billion in 2014. To date, the box office is up around eight percent from last year. If that pattern continues, 2014 would come close to being the first $12 billion year.

When speaking of billions, two is a lot, twice the number of cars in the entire world, and twelve is a-LOT-a-lot, the age of the oldest star clusters. What is behind this tremendous success? Well, a couple of Oscar-season carryovers from 2013, including “Frozen,” which won Best Animated Film and Best Original Song AND is officially the fastest-selling digital release ever; and “American Hustle,” which was all flirting and no followthrough, awards-wise, but still an entertaining entry.

Three 2014 originals of varying quality round out the top five earners of the year so far: “The Lego Movie” (with a score of 82 on Metacritic), “Lone Survivor” (60), and “Ride Along” (41). That is to say, Hollywood had made an ocean liner full of cash in just a few months, primarily from the following: two “prestige” pictures, one about women and one co-starring women; one highly regarded children’s film; one gritty war drama; and one urban buddy cop comedy. Not one is a sequel, or based on a comic book, or a board game, or a ride at Disneyland.

Does it really matter, you may ask. Even if original stories, taking seriously the experiences and points of view of children, women, African-Americans, soldiers, and toys, are making bank, will Hollywood ever change?

A Triple Feature for When You’re Feeling 30(ish) and Not Flirty and Not Thriving :/

What 2 watch, by Logan Sachon.

Film Club Update/Decree: Snowpiercer, 7/24

As per the discussion from last week, it has been decided: we will discuss Snowpiercer, the post-apocalyptic sci fi / action / lighthearted summer entertainment about class warfarestarring Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and some really aggrieved axe murderers, on Thursday, July 24th. It’s playing in certain theaters but GOOD NEWS for the non-coastal elites: you can also enjoy it from the comfort of your couch. Here’s the full report from The Verge:

You can now watch acclaimed South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s slick, post-apocalyptic sci-fi film Snowpiercer right at home — just two weeks after it hit US theaters for the first time. That’s an extremely rare move for a film such as this, which has a sizable budget ($80 million), rave reviews (such as our own), and buzz at the theaters. …

However the experiment turns out, the good news is that releasing the film on Video On Demand, AmazoniTunes, and Google Play makes it a whole lot easier for you to see Snowpiercer. If you’d rather get the full experience, the film has expanded to 325 screens around the country, meaning you should be able to find it in most urban centers, too.

Seen it already and have thoughts about its Eat The Rich philosophy? Steeling yourself for the violence, metaphors, and violent metaphors? Get ready to turn the film inside out in the comments on 7/24!

Gold Digger-Murderer “Bernie” Gets ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ Card

Today, Texas is deciding whether to free convicted murderer "Bernie," who was sentenced to life in prison for killing his much older, wealthy, and by all accounts persnickety female companion. If this sounds familiar, it might be because you saw the dark 2011 Richard Linklater comedy about the church-going small town Texas undertaker cum gold-digging gigolo cum murderer. It is, in fact, partly thanks to the film that Bernie Tiede could once again live as a free man:

Who Benefits from “12 Years A Slave’s” Oscar Bump?

The Academy Awards are a meaningless popularity contest decided by out-of-touch old white men in suits with the help of an occasional white lady. But if your movie wins one, an Oscar can help make a significant difference in how posterity treats it and, more immediately, in how much money it makes. 12 Years a Slave, which raked in a very respectful $140,000,000 worldwide before it won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, is beginning to enjoy its Oscar bump–or perhaps, bumps:

12 Years will make a major expansion in U.S. theaters — Fox Searchlight will be playing the movie in more than 1,000 theaters — even though the slavery drama comes out on DVD Tuesday. … Beyond the big screen, best picture winner 12 Years a Slave is getting a post-Oscar bump for the book it was based on. The 19th-century memoir by ex-slave Solomon Northup jumped from No. 326 on Amazon.com before Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony to No. 19 on Monday afternoon.

According to the New York Times, the movie launched its source material to the bestseller lists this past fall. Now its trajectory is steep enough that Oscar-winning director Alfonso (“Gravity”) Cuaron could be called in to film it. When your intrepid author checked on Tuesday, March 4, the paperback remained in the top 20, while the Kindle version had jumped to #17 overall and #2 on several specific lists:

• #2 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Sociology > Race Relations • #2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > History > Americas > United States • #2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction

People are rediscovering a lost classic and paying for the privilege! Terrific. But in a case like that of 12 Years a Slave, when the memoirist is long-since deceased, who profits from the book’s Oscar bump? Not to be all Upworthy about it, but the answer may surprise you.