Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Johnny Deadline: Mailbag

 by JB

Questions, comments, and great thoughts from my readers.

Q: Recently, I came upon an interview the late Gene Siskel conducted with the great Howard Hawks (Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo). In it, Hawks claims that a good movie “has three good scenes and no bad scenes.” It seems to me that many of you at FTM have been misquoting this edict for years and years (substituting “great” for “good” whenever the whim strikes you!) and misattributing the quote to the late Roger Ebert.
(Superior tone.) I realize that the majority of you F This Movie chaps are on Team Ebert, but COME ON. I depend on you God-damned pixies for my classic movie info, and if you’re all going to get something this simple wrong... Well, I just don’t know what to think.

(Implied sob.) Sure, my life hasn’t really worked out the way I was hoping it would, but the one, tiny, shining glimmer of hope was that I could always depend on F This Movie. I guess that’s all gone now—gone, finished, ended, KERPOOF!
--Mike Piccoli, Glenview, Illinois

Q: Do you think Mike Piccoli is going to be alright?
--Grace, Aged 6, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

A: No.
Q: Quick: All the President’s Men or Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace?
--Betsy Hall, Palo Alto, California

A: All the President’s Men.

Q: Does Cocaine Bear still live in the bushes outside your condo?
--Lincoln Hall, Champaign, Illinois

A: Yes, and it’s costing me a FORTUNE.

Q: Do you think the fact that many people know that the new Emily Blunt/Ryan Gosling film The Fall Guy will be streaming in 45 days hurt its opening weekend box office take?
--Joe Gemora, Pacific Palisades, California

A: Well, on this issue, I’m of two minds. First off, yes. It would have had to. The film had phenomenal buzz after its SXSW screening, its exciting trailer, and Blunt and Gosling’s appearances on the Oscar telecast and their work in last year’s blockbuster, Barbenheimer. I can’t believe a fun movie with that kind of marketing push could only manage what is projected to be a $28 million opening weekend.

On the other hand, I love going out to the movies and seeing things on the big screen. It might be my preference for weekday matinees, but I’ve never seen theaters this empty... ever! Maybe some people never came back after COVID? Maybe people got used to streaming; it’s certainly cheaper. I like not having to fight the crowds.

Oddly enough, a recent theatrical re-release of Spiderman 2 sold out its two Monday evening screenings at my local multiplex, so... Theaters are going to become the boutique providence of Baby Boomers who still like to get out of the house? Will “going out to the movies” become the expensive “spinning vinyl” of the mid-21st century? Stay tuned.

I do feel sorry for the studios. Although 90% of what they put out is dog turds in a fancy basket, the few times they actually offer something entertaining, they are handicapped by the very streaming model they pioneered. Once people are used to streaming, it’s very hard to get that particular Genie back into that particular bottle.

How do you do it? Increase the window between theatrical and screening? I’m not sure if that would work. The film would play to empty theaters for an extra two weeks while eager streamers wonder just when the hell they will get a crack at seeing it. It’s a conundrum. I just don’t want any more movie theaters to close.
Q: North By Northwest or Dazed and Confused?
--Cathy Spooner, LaQuaint, Wisconsin

A: North by Northwest.

Q: What is a gaffer? What is a key grip? What is the best boy? Can a best boy be a girl? Can a best boy buy stuff at Best Buy? How did film crew members get such colorful and esoteric names?
--Peter Rodemus, St. Paul, Minnesota
A: My, Peter, look who is full of questions! Since I was a young filmgoer, always staying through the end credits, I have been fascinated by these odd crew designations. As I understand it, the “gaffer” is the crew member who makes the most mistakes, or “gaffes,” on set during production. He is held up as a figure of derision for the entire rest of the shoot. The “key grip” is the stagehand with the strongest hand grip, as measured by a mandatory arm-wrestling tournament (It’s a union thing.) held during pre-production. The “best boy” is the crew member voted “most popular” by the rest of the crew after principal photography has been completed. Yes, a “best boy” can be a “best girl.” No, not one of these crew members is ever allowed inside a Best Buy store. It’s a union thing.

Actually, all kidding aside, the “gaffer” is the chief electrician, and their second-in-command is the “best boy-electric.” The “key grip” is in charge of the lighting and rigging and their assistant is the “best boy-grip.” The word “gaffer” pre-dates the movie industry. “Gaffer” originated in 16th century England as a contraction of the word “godfather,” and was used as a term of respect for older or more experienced men.

Q: The 1999 Mummy or All the President’s Men?
--Hal Attaboy, Cooperstown, NY

A: All the President’s Men, if Warner Brothers would just restore the original ending in which Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) keep digging and eventually discover that Nixon is, in fact, a mummy.
Q: A year ago, you spoke of visiting the Academy Museum in Hollywood and being impressed by their display of a giant, original matte painting from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. (You mentioned the museum even has a special two-story space to display such things.) Recently, the semi-reparatory theater near your home held a screening of North by Northwest. Seeing the film after witnessing the “behind the scenes magic” at the museum, was your pleasure watching the film diminished? Did seeing, touching, and tasting that original matte painting pull you right out of the film? Did it? Well, answer me. Did it?
--Remy LaCroix, Hollywood, California

A: No.

Q: I keep reading and re-reading Remy’s question above... and your answer. I call bullshit. How could seeing the original matte painting NOT have any effect on you the next time you see the movie?
--Grace, Aged 6, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A: You’re right, Grace. It shattered all my illusions. It was a life-changing event and screening. I stand corrected. I’m glad I have readers like you who care enough to call me out on my lies and set me on the right path. What right do I have to lie to the very readers who give my humdrum life meaning? You, Grace, are a very special six-year-old.

Q: That’s what my Mom always says.
--Grace, Aged 6, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina


  1. Funny AND informative Q.n.A sir!!!

    The theater question is a doosy....i think the Covid factor combined with increase in content (and sometimes good to great content) on streamers plays a huge role in diminished crowds, but its not everything. I had several moviegoing experiences in 2023 with reallly crowded theaters. Honestly right now i think it comes down to content...2024 looks to be, for the most part, a lot of "meh" releases. Im sure thats, in part due to the strikes, and in part due to the studios insistence on playing it safe with IP, also in part due to the dwindling interest in superhero fare, and so on. Regrettably it appears that a side effect of all of this is when a movie comes along that deserves to be seen big and loud in a cineplex, such as Fall Guy, it faces levels of apathy that are just too much to overcome? dunno. But i have always and will always love the theatrical experience and hope amongst hopes that it finds a way to persevere.

    1. JUST after i posted that comment i saw a blurb on Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. I also thought about the upcoming Wolverine .n. Deadpool mashup. I stand corrected on my "meh" comment. There are some flicks that fall under IP or Superhero that will do just fine this year.

    2. Completely agree on the meh content: you can’t blame people for not rushing out to theaters every weekend anymore.

    3. Speaking of meh, just saw Ghostbusters Frozen Empire