Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Miscellaneous: Dog Days No More

I don’t know if Hollywood’s box office slump is for real. I ain’t no numbers genius. If it does exist, its root causes could be any combination of possibilities: lousy movies, the poor quality of the filmgoing experience, maybe even the price of gas.

I make no claims to being a distribution guru, either. But it seems to me that the industry’s release patterns should bear some of the blame as well.

The summer movie season now begins in late April. Studios jockey for position to claim one of the next ten to twelve weeks a full year in advance, and on each of those Fridays a behemoth is unleashed on the world.

But what if you have no interest in that Friday’s big new movie?

It happened to me more than once in the summer of 2005. Hell, there was one stretch where I didn’t go the theater for two weeks in a row. It’s as if the lesson of the summer of 1989 has been forgotten. Disney opened HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS opposite the BATMAN juggernaut and cleaned up on the overflow crowds. It seems like common sense: have more movies out when people are in the mood to go.

The madness ends in July. There are exceptions; THE FUGITIVE was an early August release. But generally the last month of the summer is given over to also-rans.

Except this year. August has brought a bounty of interesting films that has had me catching two or three shows per week. And not a sequel or TV spin-off among them.

The studios released two of the better movies of the season in RED EYE and THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, as well as John Singleton’s urban western FOUR BROTHERS and Terry Gilliam’s THE BROTHERS GRIMM. The documentaries MURDERBALL and THE ARISTOCRATS expanded to more theaters. From the indie world, we got the latest from auteurs Jim Jarmusch (BROKEN FLOWERS) and Wong Kar-Wai (2046), as well as the Sundance award winner JUNEBUG. The month ends with Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of the John le Carré novel THE CONSTANT GARDENER, the first legitimate awards contender since CINDERELLA MAN.

I’m not saying that all of these films are winners. But they are all worth seeing. I could have used a few of them back in July, when there was nothing in theaters to tempt me out of the house even though I would have welcomed the air conditioning.