[ON THE SCENE]
LABOR DAY SUNDAY WITH THE ACADEMY BEAT LEAGUE
The first vocally driven song of the night has a refrain that goes “I wanna fuck,” and I realize I’ve been here before. Not geographically here, here being Beauty Bar on Labor Day Sunday, swimming through chewy air made of sweat and cigarette smoke, nor with this crowd, this crowd being the rap crowd, not the hip-hop crowd, and yes there’s a difference. But the scenario — the Academy Beat League Battle, in which one producer’s beat is put up against another’s, judged by a listlessly concentrating panel — isn’t new and it’s been happening often enough in the valley for years.
But this feels different. The bar is full. I mean all the chairs, all the booths, all the walkways, all the personal space, is taken. The body count is what’s changed. The turnout is supportive, hardly mean-muggy. Everyone wears the same Vegas-born rap-crew accoutrement, everyone pays at the door and everyone has their champion, their favorite producer, whether it be Hitman, Big B, Madhatter, et al. I’ve decided mine is Don Noxx, a heavy-set kid with a dirty mustache and glasses who looks like he listens to a lot of Sabbath and produces massive, saturated melodies with sirloin-thick drum beats. He stands on the stage, nodding along to his own work, doing that air-slap/finger-point move that indicates “here comes the bass drop/get ready/aw yeah aw yeah/ka-POW.” He took the win for his round.
From the outside, from where I’m standing, it’s actually boring to watch. Not this function specifically, but the idea of a beat battle. Battle implies action, like there’s going to be something happening, a climax, maybe violence, at very least some smack talk and some “oh no”s and “oh shit!”s. But in reality the two producers just stand on the stage, air-slapping and finger-pointing. People may dance. They may not. The crew may hoot and holler. They may just stand in a huddle and dissect the beat now that it’s out in the open, figure out where it went wrong, what to do next time, where the crowd got excited and where the judges started checking their cell phones. And when that happens the silence is deafening. But internally it must be nerve-wracking — what do you do with your hands when you’re waiting for your beat to end? Do you smile? Do you sing? Do you look at the judges? Do you pretend you haven’t finished your beer and just keep on taking big sips of air? The same way it takes balls to go up on stage and hear nothing but your own voice and your own guitar, it takes balls to stand and do nothing, hoping to God you caught all the shortcomings of your work, your two-minute resume, and then just watch the faces of the crowd, watch the faces of the judges, and wait helplessly for a verdict as you become extremely aware of your own skin. MAX PLENKE
ONE CRAZY SUMMER AT THE CINEPLEX
Summer, by and large, is weighed by one metric: profit margin. Quality rarely counts, and there wasn’t a feast of that this summer, anyway. Although “Hollywood accounting” is a truly dark art, here’s a good rule of thumb: To be a hit, a big movie needs to nearly triple its budget in worldwide receipts. Why so much? Marketing costs, distribution, the cut theaters take, gross percentages paid to top talent and residuals for everybody else aren’t in the production budget. So when Pacific Rim costs $190 million, a lot of that stuff has yet to be sorted out, meaning $250 million at the box office won’t cut it.
After the unsurprisingly raucous box office for Iron Man 3, summer 2013 was anything but predictable. Look at World War Z. It was branded a loser in Vanity Fair weeks before its release because of expensive last-minute reshoots, and it should have been a miserable, costly failure. That’s generally what expensive reshoots get you. Instead, it may be the best combination of big-budget action and box-office muscle over the entire summer.
Horror movies traditionally fare poorly in the summer, but The Conjuring has now made more money than any horror movie not named The Blair Witch Project or The Exorcist, and The Purge made 20 times its budget. Meanwhile, animation was sickly, save for Monsters University and Despicable Me 2. And independent film was almost totally absent; without Kevin Hart’s comedy concert movie and Blue Jasmine, no indie would have made $20 million this summer.
And then there are the DOA blockbusters. The Lone Ranger is the most obvious loser, but White House Down, Elysium, After Earth and R.I.P.D. all cost a ton of money and all of them will be write-offs.
But why did it backfire this summer? Why didn’t superhero flicks, star vehicles and animated family movies have their usual drawing power? Simple: Audiences branched out. The Heat, The Great Gatsby, World War Z, The Conjuring — these are top-10 grossers, while Wolverine, Hangover, Epic and Pacific Rim are on the outside looking in. Even if Now You See Me isn’t a great film, the fact that it made more money than The Lone Ranger might indicate that audiences are growing tired of totally brainless, sensory-overload summer movies.
Let’s hope so, anyway. COLIN BOYD