Monday, March 23, 2009

Hard times in Hollywood: Banderas and Freeman go straight to Blockbuster in Thick as Thieves

I suppose it has something to do with the economic crisis that the studios are dumping a lot of high-priced products on the DVD shelves without theatrical releases. The link above goes to Thick as Thieves, a caper film that, while not very good, stars Morgan Freeman, Radha Mitchell and Antonio Banderas and has a lot of production value generated by a $25m budget.

In the old days, the studios would be very reluctant to abandon hope for such a film when they had so much money invested, but the new reality is this:

  • Even if a film is completely paid for in terms of fixed expenses (production), there are significant additional variable expenses involved in a theatrical roll-out: prints, trailers, advertising, etc.
  • Therefore, the decision to schedule a theatrical release depends on whether the studio thinks a film can cover those variable expenses.
  • But, the studio only gets back about half of a film's gross, and has to pick up all the variable costs. Moreover, those costs occur before the film starts playing, while the income occurs later, so the studio's share of the gross has to cover substantially MORE than the expenditures in order to cover the time-value of the outlay and provide a return greater than the debt or equity cost of the outlay. (In simplest terms, investing in a roll-out has to earn more than the alternate uses of the money, like simply putting the same amount into a CD if the money represents available cash. If the cash must be borrowed, obviously the profits have to cover, at minimum, both the interest and the principal.)

As a result of this new hard-nosed pragmatism, which seems to be responding to the world financial downturn, several projects with A and B list talent have gone directly to DVD lately. Two other examples:

* In the Electric Mist, which stars Tommy Lee Jones and was directed by Bertrand Tavernier from a James Lee Burke crime novel. It co-stars John Goodman, Peter Sarsgaard and Mary Steenbergen, and obviously had a healthy budget.

* Killshot, which stars Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane and was directed by John Madden from a pulp novel by Elmore Leonard. (And with script revisions contributed by Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.)

That means you can pick up some interesting films which may feature some of your favorite stars or genres. I thought that In the Electric Mist was excellent for about the first half, and OK after that. I woudl not mind seeing it made into a series from the series of books about the same character. Killshot is a typical Tarantino knock-off, but it has Mickey Rourke and a wacky sidekick in full batshit-crazy mode, plus Diane Lane in an extremely flimsy t-shirt, so that ain't so bad. I've seen worse theatrical movies than these two in the past year.

Thick as Thieves isn't as interesting. It's kind of a misfire because the script stinks, the nudity is a tease, and it didn't really make use of the optimal skill sets of Banderas and Freeman, but those two guys are old pros, and I like them both, so I found it watchable, occasionally enjoyable.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on those films

Thick as Thieves is only available at Blockbuster for rental, but the other two are available at Amazon and elsewhere. Here are the links to the DVDs and the books they came from:


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