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Clever new films face critical scorn and audience torpor

by Stewart Cole

“Uninspired.” “It never catches fire.” “Unforgettable.”

I was sifting through the reviews last weekend as the first step in my quest to rediscover the movie habit. With Barbenheimer finally behind us (well, almost), I decided to see three new movies on consecutive days – yes, buy tickets and go to the theaters.

But first come the critics: Their reviews, I assumed, would be lukewarm (excerpts above.) Box office results over Presidents' Day weekend were the lowest in 23 years, down 17% year-over-year before — not a good indication. If there are some promising new movies out there, why are they hitting the wall?

Here's a clue: Remember grand openings and buzz? Well, welcome to the new era of nonbuzz – new releases welcome the sounds of silence.

Anyway, I decided to be decisive. I'm buying tickets.

Spoiler alert: I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure at the movies. But there seems to be a complete breakdown in the way we communicate with each other about experience. And we'd better figure out how to solve it, or we'll end up Netflixing it on our couches.

My new mantra: Ignore the critics and get down to some police work. When and where do these new semi-secret movies open? What are the release schedules? Will they be streaming? To be sure, everything is subject to change: As with doctor's appointments, you should double check before purchasing your ticket.

The result: Of the three films it landed this week, all had mixed to poor reviews and lackluster marketing. As it turned out, I liked all three (a lot), but when I mentioned it to friends, I got skeptical looks. did you pay You liked it? You need help.

One was French (A taste of things), a second German (The teachers' lounge) and the third half-Jamaican (Bob Marley: One Love). None earned critical acclaim and arguably didn't deserve it. Each was seriously flawed in structure and narrative, yet each deserved an audience mini-rave.

The taste of things is a deep-dive culinary adventure, but also a touching love story starring Juliette Binoche (once called Pot au Feubut French films keep changing titles). Teachers' Lounge (a 'stay away' title) is a tense thriller with an unexpectedly compelling setting and a strong message. Bob Marley: One Love is a jumbled Jamaican fever dream dedicated to reggae fans of Marley and his quest (he died in 1981).

Technically, all three reflect their low-budget patchwork origins. None would inspire the kind of “money supply” that breeds success – critics save their quibbles for safer bets like Chris Nolan or Martin Scorsese's $200 million art films.

Unfortunately, all three also represent the kind of cinema that inspires critics to prove themselves smarter than the filmmakers. “One Love it takes Marley's image from flat to lenticular,” he said The New York Times review by Amy Nicholson “If you never get to see Marley, this is a nice simulation.” To be sure, “simulacrums” consistently invite returns at the box office.

Katie Walsh in Los Angeles Times laments that the Marley film “falls into the dreaded music-biographical cliché trap” and “lacks Marley's essence”. But elsewhere in the newspaper comes the news that One Love is a worldwide surprise of more than $80 million. Despite critical scorn, the film registered with both children and geriatric ticket buyers.

Other major studio releases, meanwhile, flopped. Madame Web from Sony, about a Spider-Man character locked in the superhero's basement, and Argyll, a $200 million Apple thriller, also failed to catch fire. Even the list of trailers this week looked pathetic: Dune: Part Two looked all alone on screen — a reminder that the issue count will be well below last year's 110 mark when Avatar: The Way of Water caused a splash.

So what's going on? Distribution decoupling seems as urgent as it is critical. But here's the dirty little secret: There are some damn good “sleepers” out there, hiding in the cinematic background. It's a quest: Personally, I intend to pursue it.

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