Sunday, March 14, 2010

And the war drags on . . .

AP is syndicating a version of Ben Fritz' Los Angeles Times piece:

Despite an effort by Universal Pictures to focus the movie's advertising on its action elements and the pedigree of stars Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, who worked together on "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," "Green Zone" followed the trend of similarly themed commercial disappointments such as "The Kingdom," "Body of Lies" and "Stop-Loss."

No, it's not following a trend similar to Stop-Loss. It wishes it were Stop-Loss. That film, directed by Kimberly Peirce, has been wrongly and repeatedly called a bomb. It's not. First off, the film was made for a number of reasons and MTV and Peirce knew what they were doing. They knew who and what they had to cast and they knew that had to make at least X at the box office and at least X on DVD rentals and sales (and Pay Per View viewings) and X off cable deals. The film was made for a little less than $25 million. It sold $10 million worth of tickets (which gave the studio about $5 to $6 million). It then quickly went to DVD where it had steady sales and rentals.


What did the Pierce and MTV combo know that Matt Damon & company didn't?

Listening to all the men attack that movie you were seeing a number of things take place but mainly you were seeing their stupidity on display. Stop-loss is a policy still in effect. Marc Hall did his rap song ("Stop-Loss") in protest of being stop-lossed. Stop-Loss (the film) has gotten the message out on the policy to a group of people who wouldn't otherwise think about it. It has raised the issue. And it did so by being geared towards young straight women and young gay men. That's why Channing Tatum was cast. That's why his body is so on display throughout the film.

And it's that body -- and he's got a great body, he was a highly successful model -- that will be the calling card for Stop-Loss for years and years to come. Channing's more than eye candy and Peirce was the first director to demonstrate that. She was able to provide him with what he needed to give his first really strong performance. It was also a star making role for him. It took him out of the 'youth ghetto' where you're the high schooler and put him in adult roles. To no one's surprise, his success in Dear John currently has yet again increased the DVD monies for Stop-Loss. (And Channing is the star but not the only you've-got-to-see-this-guy! in the film.)

Stop-Loss is a strong film geared towards teenagers and young adults who really weren't thinking of the war. It takes an anti-stop loss position and the ending's effect on viewers may indeed turn it into an anti-war film. (They are not happy with the decision to return to Iraq.)

Stop-Loss is a success. It succeeded in its intent to raise awareness of the issue to people who aren't watching CNN. It succeeded in -- after all monies were taken in -- turning a small profit. It succeeded in giving a number of actors and actresses a chance to demonstrate that they had considerable acting chops.

You need to grasp that, and too many don't, before you can start evaluating what a bomb Matt Damon just set off in theaters across the country.

Where did anyone get the idea that Matt Damon could carry a $100 million film? From the Ocean's franchise where he's one of many, many actors? From the Jason Bourne films?

Let's do the analysis that Universal should have before they greenlit the bomb. There are three Borne movies. Each has increased it's domestic profit.

Was this Matt Damon's first national exposure?

No, it wasn't.

The audiences knew him for many years before he played Bourne for the first time (2002). That's the first thing you look for. What it appears to argue is that this was a role that audiences began to enjoy in spite of Matt Damon. That's why each one made more at the box office than the first.

Appears? You confirm that it was the role and not Matt Damon's fan base by looking at the box office for his films from 2000 on up. Does he carry one film to the $100 million mark? (It should be the $200 million mark if it's an action film since they cost more to make.) No, he doesn't. There's your answer. The Borne films start off with a box office gross of $121 million and end (he says it's over) with $227 million. None of the other films he is the lead in crosses the 100 million mark. Matt is not getting more popular, the Jason Borne character is getting popular in spite of Matt Damon. The argument can be made that another actor in the first Borne film would have carried the franchise to the $200 milliion mark from the start. Instead, audiences had to overcome their aversion to Matt Damon.

His other franchise is an ensemble one and he can't take credit or blame for it individually but it should have raised eyebrows that each Ocean's makes less than the one before. It should have been noticed that audiences had walked away from the Clooney Pack, that they were tired of those actors and those over-priced actors were repeatedly not selling tickets.

All of that should have resulted in realizing that either you (a) slash the budget for Green Zone in half (to fifty million) or you (b) cast some other actors. Matt Damon can't carry the film, he's yet to prove he can carry any film when you factor in the actual box office trend for Borne. Audiences have never embraced him. He's too wooden. He tries to play it that way and then, when he does a 'comic' bit, they recoil in horror because he overdoes it so much. He's never been embraced by the public the way Ben Affleck has. And possibly when terms like "catamite" pop up in GQ cover stories on Damon, you have to grasp that the press really doesn't respect him either.

Not only did they woefully miscast the lead, they gave Damon nothing to help pull in any ticket buyers. Greg Kinnear? After Sabrina, studios should have gotten the message that no one finds Greg as darling as he finds himself. Amy Ryan?

The film's a bomb and what's really outrageous and should have heads rolling at Universal is the fact that the preview audiences were very clear that (a) they didn't enjoy the movie and (b) they couldn't follow it. That's what happens when you option a serious work of non-fiction and try to turn it into a video game. Those in the previews who had knowledge of the Iraq War raised an issue repeatedly: Why the Wall St. Journal?

In the film, Amy Ryan's badly played character is a stand-in for Judith Miller. But the film makers have her working for the Wall St. Journal. No paper did more to sell the Iraq War in reporting than did the New York Times. Judith Miller is the most infamous of the Iraq War reporters. Those in the preview audiences expressed dismay that the New York Times was being let off, given a pass.

So right there you had the problems that the film experienced this weekend. Those going for a popcorn action flick were confused by what was taking place on screen and those with some knowledge of the selling of the illegal war were bothered by the rewriting of history.

You also had cards mocking Matt Damon's attempts to "butch it up" onscreen and cards expressing grave dismay over Amy Ryan's performance and looks.

Any claims that the reshoots couldn't fix that are false. Reshoots could have done wonders. But having distorted the source material, having changed it and watered it down, Damon and Paul Greengrass were now on a high horse about 'the integrity of the film.' That's laughable. No one who read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City will feel they've seen it on the big screen if they buy a ticket to Green Zone. Reshoots could have supplied a stronger ending, one that could be marketed in the advertisements and the film could have grossed $30 million in its opening weekend. Not wonderful but not the miserable box office this film has seen.

As a rule of thumb, a film that makes $14 million its opening weekend (if in wide release and heavily promoted) will make $7 million its next weekend, $5 million its next weekend, $3 million its next weekend, and then it moves out of theaters. There are exceptions. There's Something About Mary, for example, surprised audiences and needed the actual word of mouth. Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfieffer are two performers who tend to sell tickets (and sell during the week) so theaters are happy to book them in perceived hits.

The rule of thumb applies to Green Zone with one exception: The word of mouth is so awful on it, it may not make $7 million next weekend. The word of mouth on this film is awful.

Those comparing Green Zone to The Hurt Locker also don't know what they're doing. The Hurt Locker's total box office (domestic) was about $15 million (a little more than the Green Zone raked in this weekend). But it didn't have a $100 million budget. It's budget was $15 million. (It made almost $1 million in theaters this week, so actually, it's made approximately $16 million in ticket sales.) Due to the type of theaters it played in (it was never in wide release), it raked in between eight and nine million in studio profit. It's already made its money back. It did that when it went to DVD. On DVD sales and rentals alone. And that was before last week, when it won Best Picture and Best Director and Best Screenplay. The Hurt Locker flew off the shelves of rental stores again. Redbox numbers for the week (I'm going by estimates) are off the charts -- it rented like a new release for Redbox.

What was actually proven this week is that there is interest in Iraq as a topic. That's demonstrated in the take for The Hurt Locker. Some might argue that the the take for Green Zone (which could have done a lot worse) demonstrates that as well. I would argue that it only demonstrates that Universal's marketing department deserves huge bonuses and they're the only ones who deserve to keep their jobs. In many ways, however, Green Zone represents the Iraq War better than any other film. Like the war, it's full of lies and, like the war, it has a bloated budget that, in the end, pays for nothing. Ben Fritz' LA Times piece can be found here.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4380. Tonight? 4383. That's one more than ICCC shows currently but Reuters reports the US base in Baquba was attacked Saturday, two US service members were wounded and a third was killed. Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .


Reuters notes a Mosul bombing which claimed 1 life, a Mosul bombing injured an Iraqi soldier, a Mosul grenade attack on a church injured an Iraqi Christian, a Kirkuk sticky bombing which left two police officers injured and, dropping back to Saturday, two Baghdad roadside bombings claimed 2 lives and left nineteen people injured and a Kirkuk bombing which injured one police officer.


Reuters notes 1 prison guard shot dead outside his Mosul home, 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul and, dropping back to Saturday, a Mosul shooting which injured an Iman.

Last Sunday, voting completed in Iraq. And Oliver August (Times of London) reports today:

Independent election monitors in Iraq have raised significant concerns over the conduct and fairness of last week’s national poll.
A high-level Iraqi report obtained by The Times details violations across the country and includes evidence of the army and police interfering directly with voting on March 7. Based on testimony compiled by three non-governmental agencies, the report says that in some Iraqi provinces "security forces were urging people to vote for a specific list".
Election monitors also observed "the presence of a number of security forces even within the voting hall, which sometimes hindered the movement of voters and confused them about ensuring privacy in the voting".

It's really necessary to give credit to Oliver August who has gone looking for stories while so many of his peers have resorted to gas bagging. They didn't look for stories, they didn't want stories, they just wanted to say over and "Nouri's winning!" They said it last Monday, they said it all last week. They never had proof but gas bagging means never having to say you're sorry. Credit to Oliver August who actually has attempted to report. Marc Santora (New York Times) notes that the counting continues and that "no clear winners likely to emerge anytime soon" leading to some frustration/anger over the counting. Meanwhile Cathy Young (Real Clear Politics) takes on the waves of Operation Happy Talk:

Moreover, a few days after Iraqis went to the polls, a somewhat darker picture emerges than suggested by initial reports. The U.S. military, which at first downplayed the scope of violence on election day, now confirms over 130 terror attacks nationwide, claiming the lives of at least 37 people. What's more, the closely divided vote heralds political turmoil, complete with claims of ballot fraud, that have the potential to weaken the government and perhaps spill over into street unrest. As a report in Time magazine notes, the underlying ethnic and sectarian conflicts over power and resources are unresolved as well and may well remain unresolved after the U.S. forces leave. According to Time, the security situation could plummet precipitously.

New content at Third:

Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Pru notes "Inquiry into torture claims begins" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

An inquiry into allegations that British soldiers tortured and killed people in Iraq began this week.

The Al-Sweady inquiry looks at events following the “Battle of Danny Boy” in May 2004.

The battle occurred when rebel Mehdi army fighters ambushed British soldiers near a checkpoint called Danny Boy, near Al–Majar.

A number of local residents said that relatives tending nearby fields were caught up in the fighting.

British soldiers detained a number of men. The next day, they handed over 22 bodies to relatives.

Evidence of torture includes close-range bullet wounds, the removal of eyes and stab wounds.

The death certificates describe how the Iraqis died: “Several gunshot wounds to body—severance of sexual organs.”

“Gunshot to head.” “Gunshot in face, pulling out of the eye, breaking the jaw, gunshot to the chest.”

The following should be read alongside this article:
» Shocking birth defects in Fallujah

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