400 Screens, 400 Blows is a weekly column that takes an in-depth look at the films playing below the radar, beneath the top ten, and on 400 screens or less.
Not long ago, newspapers began showing signs of trouble, which included the laying off of film critics. At around the same time, and probably not connected in any way, studios began increasingly to open movies in theaters without screening for the press, realizing that stupid Tyler Perry movies, or horror remakes, or what have you, would probably make money regardless of what the reviews said. These combined factors led to a series of editorials asking about the necessity of film critics. Thankfully, that discussion has died down, and we're still here. And I can add that I don't think The Dark Knight (375 screens) would have done such monster business without the enthusiastic approval of nearly every critic on the planet.
But what needs to be discussed now is the necessity of directors. If film criticism was viewed yesterday as a job that anyone could do (no knowledge of film or film history necessary!) then film directing today is viewed in much the same way. Take a look at the colossal mess that is Mamma Mia! (279 screens). Here's a film that cost $50 million, and it was entrusted to Phyllida Lloyd, who had no experience. From the looks of things, Lloyd probably decided that, as long as it looks like everyone is having fun, then it doesn't matter if things like tone, moods and pacing ever matches up. You can have self-conscious musical numbers one moment, then moody, emotional ones the next. You can have a knockout performance by Meryl Streep and a mixed one by Pierce Brosnan.