Slowly, but surely, the rules are changing regarding how motion pictures are being distributed on their opening day. In major studio boardrooms the discussion is heating up regarding platforms for delivering movies to audiences. The goal is to reach a wider range of film fans, some of whom are rejecting seeing new movies in theaters.
For a time, executives believed that releasing features in 3D as well as 2D was the answer to generating a larger audience. However, the failure of 3D to fully take hold has hampered that idea. Moviegoers have slowly become resistant to paying the extra fee for 3D, which, depending on the city and showtimes, can run between an added $2 to $5 per ticket. Additionally, most 3D movies are ineffective digital transfers from 2D. This lessens the impact of watching a film in three dimension. It is extremely expensive to make a movie in true 3D using 3D cameras. Additionally, the special glasses needed to watch all 3D pictures darkens the image, which works against a fuller enjoyment of a film.
There was a call by the studios to shorten the initial opening run of major motion pictures. Some executives wanted new films to have only a two-week window in theaters, rather than the normal 6 to 8 weeks so that new movies could be quickly distributed on Video on Demand (VoD) and sent to streaming platforms such as Netflix. That idea failed after theater owners went ballistic.
Many insiders recognize that more and more homes have bigger and better televisions and that the theater chains may be fighting a losing battle, especially if ticket prices keep rising. The high cost of concessions doesn’t help either. There is a slowly increasing reluctance by a growing portion of the moviegoing audience to keep heading out to theaters when the film isn’t all that special. For the moment, there seems to be a stand-off between the studios and theater owners as to how to proceed.
Granted many people still enjoy the theater experience, and theaters are trying to come up with bolder ideas and more comfortable auditoriums to enhance the experience of watching a movie in public. In metro Buffalo, the Maple Ridge 8 has remodeled their screening spaces. Standard theater chairs have been replaced with classic Barcaloungers, which means that the AMC theater has the most comfortable seating in town.
Some lower budget independent and foreign pictures from small distributors have opened using Video on Demand, but they have also opened the same day in theaters.
Knowledgeable people who support VoD and on-line streaming believe that what’s needed to possibly shift the playing field is a series of movies that have earned a lot of pre-opening attention. Hype is still a vital marketing tool in Hollywood. The dream scenario is to first open the film using VoD and then after a week or two, see if it can still generate money from theater bookings. The hope is that the movie will attract a lot of attention on VoD causing its limited number of viewers to spread the word about its merits, thus encouraging others to see it in theaters.
The latest film to rely on this gambit is “The Canyons, which has stirred up an intense amount of pre-opening interest because of its thematic elements, director, and stars.
Unfortunately, “The Canyons” is the dullest buzz-worthy movie I’ve seen that isn’t immediately opening in move theaters. It’s now available to anyone who has access to Video on Demand. There are plans to show the much talked-about film in some cities on August 9, but it’s doubtful that it will receive wide release.
When I write that “The Canyons” ranks as one of the dullest movies I’ve seen, I’m not writing about silly junk, those poorly-made Grade Z films filled with dumb plots, bad acting, and sloppy production values. Even schlock can be entertaining if approached with brevity and wit. I’m writing about failed movies with a good pedigree, good intentions, and good production values.
“The Canyons” comes from Paul Schrader, one of the industry’s more interesting filmmakers. Among his many features, Schrader has written and directed the landmark “American Gigolo,” wrote the seminal “Taxi Driver, and co-wrote the legendary “Raging Bull.” Schrader hasn’t directed a movie since 2008. With “The Canyons,” he must have relished the opportunity to made a film that commented on the inner workings of the new Hollywood, where twenty-somethings thrive on social media, where sexual dominance still helps write the rules, and where easy money means anyone can be a producer. The screenplay is by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of the vicious, albeit satirical, “American Psycho,” one of the roughest novels you may read.
“The Canyons” opens with views of abandoned, crumbling movie theaters, an obvious reference to what’s to come. In Schrader’s heart, the glory days of motion pictures are over. His story is simple. A trust fund fellow with too much ready cash and a mansion in the hills wants to make a movie, which will star his girlfriend, who wants her ex-boyfriend to also star in the film. There will be numerous uninteresting and meandering conversations, some intimidation, some drugs, some full-frontal nudity (male and female), tame dimly-lit sex, and a murder. Apparently, Schrader wants to recapture what he remembers about the evils of Hollywood, but his memory seems lost in a fog.
The vapid, poorly-acted film comes across as low-key, soulless, and melodramatic in a laughable way. There’s not a character with whom anybody could possibly identify, unless they have fantasies of a life spent in a swimming pool, headlining a photo shoot, or driving a fast car. “The Canyons” is beyond superficial. It’s a glossy magazine ad.
One of the major selling points of Schrader’s wasted effort is the return of tabloid darling Lindsay Lohan to feature films and the casting of a real-life porn star as the male lead.
Lohan plays Tara, the girlfriend of the trust fund fellow. Sadly, she seems incapable of bringing some passion to her part. She reads her lines lazily, and not because that’s the gist of the character, who is anything but lazy. Tara is determined to get her former lover in the picture in which she will star. If Lohan thought this was her chance at resurrecting a once-promising career, she miscalculated. I don’t know what instructions Schrader gave her, but Lohan comes across as an actress who believes she is more important than she is. She never loses herself in the role.
Tara’s boyfriend, Christian, the wannabe producer is played by James Deen (real name Bryan Matthew Sevilla). The casting of Deen has generated immense levels of gossip in Hollywood. Deen is an internationally famous porn star, who shatters the mold of what a porn star should be. He affects a laid-back California, skate punk attitude. Since he was 18, he’s made more than 1400 sex films (mostly heterosexual and some for a strictly male audience). He’s from the comfortable city of Pasadena, is Jewish, and turned 27 on February 7. He has earned upwards of $20,000 a month for nine years. He’s rich and famous, but even with that level of renown, he still craves mainstream acceptance.
The problem with Deen is the problem you’d expect from casting any veteran porn star in a dialogue-heavy movie. Unused to talking in his films, except perhaps for the occasional “oh baby” or “do it.” Deen is completely unbelievable as Christian. Strong motion picture acting is all about the eyes. Deen rarely makes eye contact with his co-stars, let alone the camera. It’s like watching a moody shadow in every scene he’s in.
The lack of strength from both Lohan and Deen damages the film badly. They are both on-screen presences who barely register. The movie is languid enough without their lackluster performances. The empty dialogue reduces their characters to petulant children. They aren’t lost, they’re just shallow. There aren’t many other characters in the picture; a few bored hangers-on, an agent, some friends, but none of them are the central focus of the tepid story.
If there’s anything positive to be said about “The Canyons” is that it looks quite good. Schrader is a visual stylist of the highest order. He knows how to dress a set and capture light. There are some beautiful images in the film. Some scenes may drift into vapor in the middle of boring sentences, but the background holds your attention. Schrader also has a knack for the placement of music, creating moods with electronic tones. He’s a little weaker at that here, but you still welcome the intrusion.
One thing that may give hope to anyone who dreams of making a feature film is that “The Canyons” was made for practically nothing. Its production budget was a mere $250,000. In Hollywood, that’s pizza money. It helped that Schrader is an experienced professional and that the small cast was paid only $100 a day. His picture looks more expensive.
The effort clocks in at 95-minutes, but it feels longer. The ruined movie theaters we see throughout the film are the ghosts of a celebrated past. The same holds true for Schrader and Lohan. “The Canyons” highlights the fact that their glory days are behind them.
Email movie reviewer Michael Calleri at email@example.com.