8B - The Michigan Daily - Wetez't, eA. - Thursday, November 9, 1995
Film industry sees 'Strange Days,' season
Fall extravaganzas fail to please in art house-oriented season
By Michael Zilberman -
Daily Arts Writer
It was supposed to be the greatest point
of the fall movie season. A slew of high-
profile, serious-name projects opened
virtually simultaneously: "The Scarlett
Letter" with Demi Moore; "Assassins"
with Sylvester Stallone and Antonio
Banderas; "Jade," an attempt to confirm
David Caruso's star status after the rela-
tively low-profile - and still great __
"Kiss Of Death;" and "Strange Days,"
poised to render Ralph Fiennes a house-
hold name and make people memorize its
pronunciation (Rafe Fines) at the same
As it turned out, the first two weeks of
October 1995 became the strangest days
the industry has seen in decades. All of
the offered titles flopped. Every single
one. In its first weekend in release, "Jade"
took in $4.3 million (it cost $50 million).
"The Scarlet Letter" made $4.1 million.
"Strange Days" got $3.6 million. Consid-
ering that a movie's total domestic gross
is usually three times its opening week-
end take, this phenomenon is all the more
The scandal-ridden, Paul Verhoeven-
.directed "Showgirls" was, in fact, the
,only film to do some decent business in its
first weekend during the past month. This
was thanks to the sturm-und-drangadver-
tising assault put on by its financiers. But
5t promptly got killedby word ofmouth in
its second week.
Same with "Assassins," which will
definitely not recoverits $60 million price
tag, even if the new ad campaign hilari-
ously concentrates on Banderas instead
of usual money-making star Stallone.
But let's take a closer look at all these
contestants. Among the flops are a lush
historical drama, a slick film noir, a dark
apocalyptic thriller, an actioneer and a
gaudy semi-musical chock-full of naked
women. A New York Times article quoted
a thunderstruck movie executive as stat-
ing: "I don't know what the lessons are
here, except we're making a lot of movies
that people don't want to see."
The industry has every right to cry:
"What ELSE can you possibly want?!"
And the question deserves more than a
little attention. Really, what was it that
was drastically or substantially different
in the current batch of movies that we
DIDN'T see - and eat up - from the
group of other similar movies released a
month ago? The most frightening thing
about the October flops is that they do, in
fact, accurately represent the full range,
the gamut of mainstream Hollywood
genres in their current sorry state. So why
the mass rejection?
The theories, as always, abound.
There's the ubiquitous "mis-marketing"
defense. For example, and this time it's
somewhat substantiated: "Strange Days"
nroducers emnhasized that the still rela-
tively unknown Ralph Fiennes stars in the
movie. Considering that they had James
Cameron's name at their disposal (he
wrote and produced the film), they could
have made the movie look more like a
successor to Cameron's popular "Termi-
nator2" than to Fiennes's less-successful
Another possible explanation would
be that all of those movies look more like
summer extravaganzas dumped, for some
reason, into the art house-oriented fall
season. Then again, that was precisely
Stallone's strategy with "Demolition
Man" when it came out around Hallow-
een two years ago. Then, it worked quite
Finally, there's that oddball theory that
we are somehow stuck in between star
generations. Old matinee idols are barely
holding on (Sly, Arnold, all the icons of
the '80s are desperately trying to re-in-
vent themselves); the Depps and Pitts of
the next generation haven't quite made a
name for themselves yet.
This is an interesting point, but it is
easily shattered by a little peculiar fact:
While new releases crash and burn one
after another, one movie quietly remains
on top of the chart for the fifth consecu-
The name of this film is "Seven" - a
bleak, grim thriller with rather innova-
tive, occasionally grating camerawork and
(I guess it's not a secret any more) an
absolutely devastating coda. The ending
is so shocking, in fact, that it is as far
removed from the standard Hollywood
idea of a happy ending as humanly pos-
sible. In short, Griffin Mill's ("The
Player") worst marketing nightmare. Yet
it works. Often compared to "Silence Of
The Lambs" (1991), "Seven" seems to
share the same box-office fate: As you
might remember, "Lambs" opened in the-
aters with some mediocre figures and
then ... just stayed there for a month and a
So havethe audiences that wentthrough
Miramax-release school ofanti-establish-
ment films, finally decided they're fed up
with Hollywood product? Will the major
studios crumble and leave the Earth to our
own annual Ann Arbor 16 mm Film
Festival? Will the good prophets turn evil
and lead the faithful astray, to quote the
ironically wise Wayne Campbell?
But there's no denying that a certain
shift has occurred. The MTV generation
may be, in fact, ready for more extreme
camerawork, more muddled narratives,
more brain-twisting endings. The need
for ordinary fluff movies will never go
away (let's just see how "Get Shorty"
does, shall we?). But the sudden act of
mass refusal that shook up the industry
and resulted in total losses of around $150
million in one week. nresents a lesson to
Ralph Fiennes' talent and charisma couldn't save 'Strange Days.'
anyone who'll bother to pay attention.
A script that was considered "too risky"
for the big screen, might get picked-up.
Someone might think twice about giving
another $20 million to Stallone for an as-
yet-unwritten movie. And, dare I dream.
someone might realize that even if we
adore Antonio Banderas, can't live with-
out Antonio Banderas, or name our
children Antonio and Banderas, it still
doesn't justify "Never Talk To Strang-
Teen films back with a vengeance
Fluff formula appeals to clueless audiences
By Prashant Tamaskar
wily Arts Writer
One of the most significant contri-
butions the 1980s gave to the silver
screen was the "high school" or "teen-
,age" movie genre. Films that fit into
This extremely popular category in-
:cluded "Pretty in Pink," "The Break-
fast Club" and "Fast Times at
-Ridgemont High" to name just a few.
:Yet, despite the abundance of teen
F'ilms 10 years ago, they all but disap-
peared as the '90s arrived. That is,
until the past few months. During this
time, we have seen the release of two
films, "Clueless" and "Angus," which
may mark the comeback of the high
-school movie genre.
The greatest difference between the
new films and those of the previous
decade are merely reflections of the
changing popular culture. While in
"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (also
directed by "Clueless" creator Amy
Heckerling) seniors grooved to the
beats of the Go-Go's, the artists of
choice in "Angus" include Green Day
and Pearl Jam. Hair spray and big hair
are gone. Jeep Cherokees have re-
placed Trans-Ams. And the flannel,
grunge look has taken over for the old
Despite these apparent surface
variations, the true heart of the teen-
age movie has not changed overtime.
In a majority of these films, there are
several identical components at the
root of the tremendous predictability
of their plots.
The teenage film must, in some
way, always be a coming-of-age story.
The lead characters learn to overcome
the immaturity or superficiality of
their peers, enabling them, despite all
consequences, to be superior to their
classmates. Thus, in the end, they
realize that being true to themselves
is all that is really important; they will
ultimately be better off than most other
Of course, in order for this theme to
have some merit, the main character
is usually presented as a social out-
cast. Whether this is because of his or
her socio-economic status - like
Molly Ringwald's character in "Pretty
in Pink"-or because of other factors
such as physical attractiveness or in-
tellect, depends on the movie.
It is imperative, however, that this
lack of social appeal be documented
at some point early in the action. Usu-
ally, this introductory scene involves
popular kids either physically or, more
often, verbally antagonizing the lead
character. This allows the audience to
sympathize with the protagonist im-
mediately, causing the emotional ten-
sion that builds throughout the rest of
The main character always has an
eccentric best friend with whom to
suffer. Often, this confidant is the
only one in school who is a bigger
reject than the protagonist. This is
done to make the plot slightly more
plausible. No one would believe that
the biggest loser in the school could
go out with the head cheerleader or
football captain (so don't bring up
that unforgettable Patrick Dempsey
classic "Can't Buy Me Love" here).
However, this other friend is al-
ways very secure in his or her posi-
tion in the hierarchy of popularity.
They are always reliable, yet often
become victims of social climbing. In
Alicia SlIverstone takes her place among the Molly Ringwalds of the world In the teen flick "Clueless."
general, the friend is the most re-
deeming person in the film.
The primary conflict in the story is
the improbable romance between the
main character and his or her beauti-
ful and greatly-admired counterpart.
At the beginning of the movie this
person usually is going out with an-
other really popular student - who is
often a jerk, to say the least. Our hero
always wonders why his or her love
would date someone like that; he or
she just wishes to have one chance to
impress the crush.
Circumstances always bring about
this opportunity, and it is obvious that
the protagonist and his or her love
interest get along well. More often
than not, this is because the main
character enjoys the physical appeal
of his or her bland but gorgeous coun-
terpart, while the love interest likes
the protagonist for his or her person-
ality. The final question to be an-
swered is whether love can overcome
the enormous social barrier between
these two people.
Another prominent scene in most
teen films is the important dance/party
scene. In this part of the story, the
main character faces his or her most
difficult challenge. Whether this
means confronting the more popular
rival or facing a crucial moment with
the love interest, the protagonist usu-
ally ends this moment in a dignified,
ifnot gratifying (and frequently amus-
Finally, the high school movie ends
with a big, predictable climax. The
main character, after believing to have
blown his or her chances with the
person of his or her dreams, is pleas-
antly surprised by the decision of the
love interest. That is, we can count on
seeing the most improbable of all
things, one of the most beautiful,
popular people in school in the arms
of a social outcast. And this is what
everyone pays to see.
These general characteristics of this
film genre have not changed much from
their invention in the '80s. So far, the only
thing that has changed is the number of
teen movies that are in release at one time.
There are certainly a lot fewer out now
than, say, 10 years ago. However, given
the popularity of"Clueless" this summer,
it is a good bet that these films will make
a comeback in the near future.
Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs presents
'Comedians of Color, Live @ Trotter'
Come check out a new and colorful comedy series sponsered by Multi-
Ethnic Student Affairs. The first performer in the series is Charlie Hill,
a Native American. Hill is a member of the Oneida tribesand he was born
and raised on the Oneida reservation in central Wisconsin. Since then, he
has appeared on "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Tonight Show," and
"Late Night with David Letterman." You can catch a glimpse of this
amazing comedian for free this Sunday, November 12 at the Trotter
House, 1443 Washtenaw Ave., just off the corner of Washtenaw and S.
University. Show time is 8 p.m.
,. "- -w