It is once again that time of the year. It is the time when theater-owners from all over the country convene in Las Vegas, NV to hear what movie studios have to say about the present and future of the film exhibition business. It is the annual ShoWest convention. What started as a conference strictly for those in the field of theater management has attracted the likes of movie fans thanks to this little thing called Internet buzz. After all, if movie theater managers are getting a sneak peak at what is to come in 2009, don't cinephiles have to satisfy that curiosity as well? As I did last year, I decided to scoot down the street to the Paris Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip for the day to see what the conference had to offer.
I've arrived at the Paris Hotel rather early for my first screening of the day, so I took it upon myself to grab my complimentary goodie bag. After becoming wowed last year at the offerings of movie merchandise clothing, food, and even electronic devices, I couldn't wait to see what was up for grabs this year. But as I opened the bag, it suddenly hit my like a ton of bricks: the economy. With the exception of a Star Trek cap, I was looking at odds and ends that included brochures and cheap candy.
However, this was not something that would bring me down. I had vivid memories of smiling candy sales representatives showering me with concession favorites from last year. I took it upon myself to hit the trade show floor to make magic happen again. Then, like a slap in the face, it hit me again: the economy. No real interest in buying for my movie theater? No candy! When I did manage to sample a new bag of Skittles Cores, the presenter looked as though I had just murdered her family when she found out I was not a theater owner. Losing this bag of Skittles to a non-entrepreneur seemed to break her heart. So therefore, this sentence is brought to you by Skittles Cores! They are the only Skittles product that can give you two smashing fruit flavors in one piece of candy! With the assumption that every reader from MovieWeb is now on their way to purchase an orange bag of Skittles Cores, I say to you Skittles, "You're welcome."
10:30 AM- The Cove
Things were a tad on the stingy side at the trade show, so I moved on to my first screening of the day. The Cove is a documentary being released by Lions Gate and Roadside Attractions this summer, and is probably one of the more sobering films I have seen this year. Before the screening, the audience was treated to a brief panel discussion that included director Louie Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens. Yes, that Fisher Stevens. He was playing the role of producer on this panel, but you and I both know him better as Johnny-5's pal from the Short Circuit films. The discussion briefly brought to light the presence of social awareness documentaries in multiplexes and how some have been propelled to mega-millions with mainstream crowds. Examples that were cited included An Inconvenient Truth and Fahrenheit 9/11.
Then there was the film. The Cove refers to a place in Taiji, Japan where the unthinkable happens to dolphins. Yes it is true. Those lovable, smiling mammals that we see at Sea World are actually slaughtered by the thousands outside the tourist haven Taiji. One would think that by looking at the town that it loves the creatures with its homage to dolphins posted everywhere. However, it is the killing of the animals that makes the town its money.
Director Louis Psihoyos, who began with National Geographic, actually features himself in the film along with a group of eco-lovers determined to expose the slaughter that happens in Taiji. However, the most interesting subject of the film has to be Richard O'Barry. Once the trainer who himself captured the dolphin used for the television series Flipper, he came to the realization that captive dolphins are miserable creatures. He even holds himself responsible for the current dolphin craze because he believes Flipper is what introduced dolphins into popular culture. O'Barry, Psihoyos, and their team use state-of-the-art spy equipment to penetrate the protected cove and show the audience what the village of Taiji, Japan does not want us to see.
As a person who never really gave a crap about dolphins in the first place, I have to say that The Cove is an eye-opening experience. I plan on reviewing it at greater length this summer, but not mentioning the film in this article would be a crime. This movie not only follows the filmmakers through their endeavors, but informs us on the poor state of the ocean and the dangers of mercury poisoning among other things. This is definitely one to seek out this summer.
As it had been a long time since breakfast, and I decided to attend the final day luncheon in the Paris Ballroom. But this was not just any luncheon. It was being put on for a few honorees. One individual receiving an award was the always-great Patricia Clarkson. Another was director Kathryn Bigelow, who was being recognized for her recent film The Hurt Locker. Her acceptance was preceded by a trailer for the film starring Jeremy Renner as a military bomb expert, and I must say this one will likely not disappoint. However, the highlight of the lunch was Roger Ebert being honored. One does not know exactly how to react when their hero enters the same room. Now speechless due to his surgery, Ebert was accompanied by his wife Chaz, who read his prepared speech for him. Only Roger Ebert has the cleverness to break "thank you" cliches and somehow construct an acceptance speech that takes a dig at movie theater talkers, while stressing the importance of mainstream multiplexes giving screen space to smaller, independent movies. As far as I'm concerned, once Roger Ebert has passed, he will take with him a style of film journalism that is already falling into extinction.
2:45 PM- Whatever Works
With my stomach full and my intellect stimulated, it was time to move on to the next screening. Whatever Works is the comedy due out this summer from director/writer Woody Allen. It is no secret that the director is aging and that his on-camera presence is not what it used to be. In many films not starring Allen, critics sometimes point out that neurotic character that is supposed to embody him. The most recent example is Rebecca Hall in Vicky Christina Barcelona. However, the embodiment of Woody has never been this pronounced. You guessed it...Larry David is the star of Allen's upcoming project.
David stars as New York City curmudgeon Boris. After an attempt at suicide, the man lives his life with pessimistic observations. This is until he meets Southern cutie Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood). Despite their pronounced difference in age and personality, these two become attracted to one another in a bizarre way. Things get even more awkward when Melodie's conservative parents (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr.) decide to visit their little girl in the city.
Once again, this is a film I plan to review in more depth closer to its release, but I will say a few sentences to promote the picture. I do not think that fans of Woody Allen or Larry David will be disappointed. David breaks the fourth wall and performs Woody's monologues for the camera like a natural. Much of the harshness that David brings to his series Curb Your Enthusiasm is toned down a little to make his character more likable. But Enthusasm fans have nothing to fear as we still get plenty of exposure to the grump that manages to piss off the general public. It is only for certain tastes, but nothing makes me laugh harder than a cringe-inducing moment in which Larry David uses his asshole powers to rile people up. Once again, this is a film that shouldn't be overlooked this summer.
It has been another enlightening visit to ShoWest. Yes the economy seemed to have a profound effect on the distribution of freebies. But it was still refreshing to see that, despite this crap economy, the movie business is still thriving. So much, in fact, that they are releasing more 3D movies, and inventing movie theater seats that shake audience members in synchronization with movie sound effects until said audience members puke out their Sour Patch Kids. We may have problems with paying $3.25 for a half-filled box of candy, but at least the cinema still lives on. Until next year, I hope that exhibitors continue to bring to the multiplexes everything from Michael Bay's excrement to independent treasures.