Monday, April 14, 2014

The Spoiler Experiment pt. 1: Draft Day

Draft Day
seen @ Jamaica Multiplex Cinemas, Jamaica NY
4.11.14

In a sense, what I'm doing with this Spoiler Experiment isn't terribly new for me. There have been movies in the past that I've seen knowing either (almost) everything or (almost) nothing. This, however, will be the first time I've made a conscious effort to pay attention to whether or not it makes a difference either way.

I'm writing this section on April 10, the night before I go to see Draft Day, the first of my two case studies. To reiterate, I chose my two test films, Draft Day and Million Dollar Arm, because they're just similar enough: sports comedies featuring middle-aged star actors, about businessmen looking for young talent to replenish their teams. It's my belief that this will make for a fairer comparison than if I chose films from different genres, or if I picked a studio film and an independent one.



Draft Day is my "blind" movie. All I know about it I've either learned or inferred from the poster. It stars Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner and it's directed by Ivan Reitman. I've been fortunate to have not seen the trailer before any new movies I've seen this year, but I also haven't seen a great deal written about it at my favorite movie websites either. (Ditto for Arm, so far.) Even though it's made by a name director, with major stars, it hasn't gotten anywhere near as much coverage as genre movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or films by fan-favorite directors, like Darren Aronofsky's Noah, or Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Once upon a time, Costner and Reitman would've generated plenty of heat, but I suppose the lukewarm reception is indicative of how far down the ladder of popularity they've fallen. Costner has only recently returned to leading-man status after supporting roles in films like Man of Steel and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, while Reitman's name has only been turning up lately in relation to the on-again, off-again possibility of a third Ghostbusters film.



I'm anxious. As of this writing, Draft Day has an anemic 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If it wasn't part of my experiment, I would easily skip this movie. I don't make a habit of spending money on movies with such poor reviews unless I'm convinced there's more to them than the critics say. I've gone against the critics before when it comes to seeing movies, but I always had some knowledge of the film to guide me, at least. I don't have that here.

I feel a bit like someone in a small town with only one multiplex, who wants to see a good movie this weekend, but has to settle for what's playing, which may or may not be any good. Sometimes it's too much of a hassle to drive thirty or forty miles to the college town with the art house theater playing Under the Skin or Only Lovers Left Alive, and besides, your best friend would rather see Bad Words and the kids wanna see Rio 2. So you settle. I can imagine how that could become a pattern.

Anyway, I'm committed. All I can do at this point is hope for the best.

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It's not a comedy! That may have been the biggest surprise I got out of Draft Day - even though it's directed by Ivan Reitman, even though it played behind trailers for new films from Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz, it was a straight drama. There were some light moments, sure, but from the first scene with Costner and Garner, I was amazed to discover that this was a drama... which is fine by me, though now I'm wondering whether I've misjudged Million Dollar Arm the same way too. The trailer for that (which I had already seen online) also played in front, and though it does look light, I don't think it's as broad a comedy as similar cross-culture sports comedies like The Air Up There or Cool Runnings (I hope not, anyway).

You could say that Draft Day is Jerry Maguire meets Moneyball. Moneyball and Draft Day are both about a sports executive forced to defy conventional wisdom in order to produce a team with the potential to win, but the former is about evaluating talent objectively, through only the numbers, whereas with the latter, there's an emphasis with Costner on going with his instincts when he's up against the wall. Also, as in Maguirethere's a romantic subplot that impacts how Costner approaches his job, but he never makes any grand "mission statement" on how he thinks the business of football should be run.



In the movie, Costner, as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, makes a questionable trade for the number one overall pick in the NFL draft in order to land the top college prospect, but over the course of the hours leading up to the draft, not only does his staff and his boss challenge his decision and other teams try to deal for the pick, but he wonders whether that prospect is all everyone says he is.

Draft Day, like many movies these days, does not have any opening credits; just a stage-setting build-up to the title card and then bam! The movie begins in earnest. I was so grateful for that, because it meant I could discover who else is in the movie on my own, and that was fun (Ooh, Frank Langella! Oh, look, it's Sam Elliot! Is that Denis Leary? Is that Ellen Burstyn?). And once the credits showed up at the end, there were other names I recognized, like Patricia Arquette and 42's Chadwick Boseman. I don't get that experience very often these days, and it was quite pleasant to have.

Obviously, I didn't read any advance reviews. I had to find out where and when this was playing, so on Thursday night, I went to Rotten Tomatoes to find out, remembering too late that reviews and an overall rating was already up for the movie. Friday morning, a link to Leonard Maltin's review showed up on my Facebook feed, though I only had a fleeting glimpse of the one-sentence summary that accompanied his link. The only way this experience could have been more ideal was if I hadn't been to RT or seen Maltin's link. (It won't make a difference with Arm, because that's my "spoiler" movie. I'm gonna learn everything about that in advance.)


Where can I get that cellphone-brass knuckles combination?

As I implied with the comparisons to Maguire and Moneyball, Draft Day is not that original a story. I was able to figure out what was gonna happen the closer we got to the end. Also, Reitman experimented with an odd split-screen effect whenever phone calls were made, in which a character on one side would overlap the dividing line into the other character's side. It was cool at first, because I had never seen that technique before, but after awhile it was kinda distracting and took me out of the story. I didn't see any need for it other than as a way to make talking scenes look clever.

That said, I still enjoyed it. Granted, I'm the audience for a movie like this (or Arm, for that matter), so I'm gonna be a little more receptive to it than the next guy, but the audience I saw it with seemed to like it, too. I got lucky; this could've been more of a stinker than the critics made it out to be. 

And I can't deny that coming into it with low expectations and absolute minimal foreknowledge helped. To what degree? Well, I can say with confidence that the initial negative reviews likely would've kept me away under normal circumstances. What I would have done was read a few reviews, at sites like The Dissolve or Rope of Silicon or Leonard Maltin's blog, concluded that it probably wasn't worth spending money on, and moved on to something else.

I rely on reviews to an extent. Some movies I know I'm gonna see no matter what the critics say. Often times I read reviews simply to see what my favorite sites have to say about a given movie, whether I wanna see it or not. Much of the time, though, I don't need much of a hard sell - i.e., advance knowledge - if it's a movie I'm already interested in. If it has an unusual premise, or an unknown director or star, then yeah, I'm gonna need some more information. Draft Day had neither. The premise and the stars would've been enough of a draw for me even without this experiment, so I wouldn't have needed advance knowledge.



Draft Day is now up to 62% on RT. Quite a turnaround! Would that have changed my mind? Maybe. I would've looked at some of the top critics' reviews before deciding, I know that. Ultimately, what might've tipped the scales would be the plain fact that there are SO MANY movies I wanna see this month (seriously, I didn't expect there to be this many) and I can only spend so much money on them - and because most of them are indie movies, they'd probably take priority.

I realize I'm an atypical moviegoer. Most people don't pay as much attention to critics as they might have once, and as far as spoilers go, well, whatever they may discover beyond what they may read on Perez Hilton will probably be very little. Perhaps that's why I said what I said in my Thursday night statement at the top about feeling like someone in a small town with one multiplex. The ones who devour spoilers like candy are a minority, and when I swing in that direction for Arm, I'm sure I'll feel the difference.

So what are your thoughts? I'm particularly interested in hearing how often other people go into movies "blind," and to what extent others' opinions, whether critics or friends, wield an influence. Your opinions will definitely carry weight in my overall experiment, so please feel free to speak up.

2 comments:

  1. I don't go out to see new releases very often because of the hassle and expense. Even when the interest is there, I usually end up waiting for it to hit a repertory theatre or become available for home viewing. And then it's probably another couple of years before I catch up with it.

    I don't read the newspaper critics any longer as I don't think they speak to me. My judgements are based on trailers. Sometimes I've been wrong, but I don't like to admit it.

    When it comes to newer movies I have found my daughter's judgment to be almost uncannily accurate as far as knowing what I will or will not enjoy. She told me I wouldn't like "The Dark Knight". I should have listened!

    The trailer for "Draft Day" intrigued me. It appeared to have an interesting premise for its story and a polished cast. It would make my "on demand" list. However, your comparison to "Jerry Maguire" will move it lower as that was a movie I couldn't get into at all.

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  2. Interesting that you think newspaper movie critics don't speak to you. I never thought of them as serving a demographic, especially in a city like Toronto, which is such a movie-friendly mecca. I know reviews tend to be smaller these days, as newspapers in general have cut back on such things. Obviously there's more going on than a reduction of content.

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