June 16, 2008

In Bruges...Forever?

"Joke's on you guys!," says director Martin McDonagh.

You might or might not pay attention to the little release schedule I have on the left sidebar. My hope is that it's referenced by Twin Cities moviegoers wondering what they should see, but if nothing else it reminds me what I have to look forward to over the next few months.

Although I've only had the calendar up there since April, there is one movie whose title may permanently be branded into the pixels on your screen: In Bruges.

After premiering at Sundance in mid-January, In Bruges opened at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis on Friday, February 8. Getafilm guest columnist Matt (MNRaul) and I saw it that blustery night with a surprisingly small audience. We had differing thoughts on the movie - he liked it a little more than me; I ended up giving it a "B", and we thought that was the end of it. A little indie that most people wouldn't see in the theater.

The Uptown is a Landmark-owned single screen theater and it's rare that a film will play there more than two weeks in a row. Most are sent over to the Landmark-owned multi-screen Lagoon Theater across the street after their first week. I think I stopped counting when In Bruges marked its seventh week in a row at the Uptown.

Now, I know that it had to have been playing to empty houses most of the time, but I wasn't too bothered because new releases were still opening elsewhere, including the Lagoon, which is where In Bruges eventually landed. And there it remains, at this moment, in its 19th week in release.

Of course the irony in all of this is that the film's characters are, in fact, indefinitely stuck in Bruges. While I'm sure the Landmark decision-makers are a clever bunch, I doubt they're doing this as a practical joke. However, there just can't be more people seeing this than there were when I saw it on opening night five months ago, so who knows. How do you otherwise justify charging full price for a movie in a first-run theater for so long - especially one that's being released on DVD next week?

It was a pretty funny movie and I liked most of it, but I'll end with this: "Ken, I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, [In Bruges] might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't."

What do you think? What movies have played past their expiration date in your city/neighborhood (not just recently, but going back), and for what reasons? Is this a problem, and are we missing out on other movies that could be playing instead? I'd love to hear your perspectives/experiences...


  1. How about "In Bruges...Still Has Not Opened in SA and it Makes Me Mad!”

    Seriously, come the end of this week, when school closes for the winter, I am downloading it. I don't care. I cannot wait forever.

  2. I loved "In Bruges," but it disappeared from screens here as quickly as it came, which is sad. I think it had a greater commercial potential than it was given a chance to have.

    As far as movies overstaying their welcome, I remember several years ago that "Big Mama's House" stayed in a first run theater near me for 6 months.

    6. MONTHS.

  3. All I know is that some films, like 2004's "As it is in Heaven" played in SA for almost a year and a half. And then some films, like Sweeney Todd stayed for 2 weeks.

    So odd, and I cannot think of a real reason why. When I saw Sweeney, twice in theatres, it was PACKED. So, I am confused.

  4. I have a different frustration... when a cineplex like AMC expects (and, in fairness, usually gets) huge turnout for a particular movie, and blocks off three or four theaters just for that movie. It's great if you want to see that particular film, but you're screwed if you've seen it twice and want to movie on. (Prince Caspian, I'm looking at you.)

  5. hee hee... I said "movie on". You know what I meant.

  6. Haha, Matthew, that's a sad one. I just checked out its run on IMDB: here it is. You must have had it in one of those last 12 screens. Here's the box office log for Bruges, since I just figured out how to figure it out. Like you, I think Bruges could have had done better business had it been moved around and marketed a little better. I'm curious what the international box office will end up being since it looks like it's almost done with that as well. Interestingly, it was at one time playing at 270 screens in the UK, while the most it ever had here was 232. I don't know if that's because of McDonagh or not. I don't know what to tell you, Nick. It's on DVD next week...

    Wow, a year and a half?!? That's Titanic-like. But at least the big ship was playing to big audiences for all of those months. With other movies it just doesn't make sense.

  7. Ha, yes I do know what you meant, Nayana. I don't know when that multiple-print trend started. Now there will be 6 movies playing at a 20-screen theater. Kind of silly and sometimes dilutes the excitement, in my opinion, in addition to kicking out movies like Prince Caspian.

    Nick, I just looked up As It Is in Heaven. Played on ONE screen in the U.S. for 3 weeks = $10,000 box-office. Go figure.

  8. Daniel - It is still playing in Chicago as well.

    I meant to see it, but like most of my intentions, it never happened.

  9. Interesting where it's found a home, Marilyn. I can't imagine it will still be playing in first-run theaters after the DVD is out next week. You'll be fine either way.

    Every now and then I miss a movie that I'd hoped to see in the theater. Believe it or not, life actually goes on.

  10. Daniel - You've got that right. One I missed this weekend that I won't get another crack at is a pre-Code Stanwyck called Forbidden. It's not good to always be laissez-faire...

  11. I made the same exact comment about In Bruges a few weeks ago for TGITDNMAR (I believe). It's finally ended its run here, but was playing at one of two Harkins Theaters for at least 3 months.

    While the film certainly showed legs not normally seen in film-land (much less indie-land), I think this is more indicative of a weaker-than-usual indie slate through the first 4 months or so of this year. As evidenced by your numerous reviews as of late, that's changed.

  12. I just looked back over the posts at my site and discovered that IN BRUGES was the very first film I reviewed at CP on the 5th of March. So I know we must've have had it February.

    Funny. Obviously I knew that it was one of the first posts I made at the site. But I was thinking that it was probably closer to April rather than March. I never paid too much attention to my start date. It was enough for me that I got the enterprise up and running.

    Hah. Guess what? IT'S STILL PLAYING HERE. Mind you, it's at one of the discount theatres. But we do have several so it's not quite the last gasp.

    It is one of the few four star films I've seen this year (the others being MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS and THE VISITOR) so I'm happy that something that I enjoyed so much - and of such superior quality as well - is sticking around.

    But in Minneapolis/St. Paul, that is quite a few weeks I imagine. Seems even a little fated (let's say...) as you describe it, Danny.

    I have no stories about current films sticking around. I've been bitching loud and long over at Craig's blog LIVING IN CINEMA about DVD release dates cutting into our current theatrical time - and it makes my blood boil.

    I still remember my older relatives (not so much my parents - they weren't big moviegoers) talk about how JAWS played here for well over a year in the 70s. Same with STAR WARS.

    That was back when they did the platform roll out. I heard that JAWS opened on a single screen on the edge of downtown - that I still attend regularly - and then they rolled it out to the suburbs slowly over time.

    So JAWS opened at this one theatre, eventually played in some others in the suburbs and was still playing at the original theatre well OVER A YEAR LATER until it closed. I pieced all of this together from stories that I heard and old articles that I dug up. Apparently it was much the same scenario for THE STING which opened at that same single screen Christmas of 73. Opened there. Still playing there a year later.

    I don't know when it stopped. Ha ha. Maybe JAWS was the film that finally pushed it out?

    I was also moaning and bitching about a discount theatre in the West End that I thought would be closing. It looks like it's safe FOR NOW.

    But in the fall of 1980 (before it became a cut price house, of course) one of my all time favourite movies, THE STUNT MAN - with PETER O'TOOLE and BARBARA HERSHEY - played there in an exclusive engagement for nearly a year. Then they moved it over to another theatre. So it was here for approximately a year give or take.

    Of course I wasn't quite born yet. But it was lovely to hear about it.

    Starting in the spring of 92, though, HOWARDS END played here on and off for about 18 months. My aunt got hooked on it and I went countless times with her.

    Those experiences must have UNBELIEVABLE. Just incredibly satisfying for movie lovers. I mean, HOWARDS END and THE STUNT MAN are both widely loved by people who've seen them. But they sure as hell didn't have the enormous box office power of JAWS, SW and TS. Those three were outright phenomenons in their particular places and times.

    So, I imagine the studios and the theatre chains must have cut deals. As long as the films performed to expectations then they could stay.

    God, that must have been SOMETHING. I think we're really getting shortchanged.

    But it genuinely appears that the days of a film languishing at a single screen for A YEAR OR MORE have vanished forever. Never to return.

    I think we should be all the sadder for it. Unfortunately...

  13. Interesting case, Daniel. In Bruges didn't stay in my neighborhood (counting San Rafael, CA as "my neighborhood," it's just a ten-minute drive) *that* long but it did stay for a while. Seems to be one of those movies that, as a result of not really fitting into one clear "genre," has a smorgasbord of groups within the moviegoing audience at large who want to see it. I remember clearly seeing it in late February and seeing three old ladies see it. When I came out, they were standing at their car (which was next to mine) and they asked me what I thought. We conversed for a while and one of them said that all she knew about it was that it was a comedy and that was why she brought her two friends to see it.

    Naturally, they were shocked it was so violent with so many bad words, and generally not exactly, say, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or something along those lines.

    Most releases don't stay around for a very long period of time, though, and especially in summer. The turn-over rate around here for movies in summer is startling. Especially this year, it seems, every week it's a bloodbath.

    Anyway... I'm looking forward to seeing In Bruges again on DVD.

  14. Daniel, after seeing the same trailer for In Bruges at every other movie for 3 months straight, it never even came here (Little Rock). So I'm very jealous of anyone who's gotten to see it at all. I anxiously await it's DVD release.

    Two movies that out-stayed their welcome at my local independent theater: No Country for Old Men & There Will Be Blood. No Country played until the weekend before its dvd release. TWBB played until the weekend AFTER its dvd release (ridiculous, no?). I'm sure we could've gotten In Bruges, if the theater would've dumped one or both of those in a timely manner.

    And I agree with Nayana about dedicating several screens to one film. Our largest multiplex in town has 18 screens. Since the beginning of summer movie season, it's only been showing about 9 or 10 movies on average due to the big summer blockbusters taking up so many screens, week after week. Very annoying.

  15. In Bruges was kind of an interesting case. Both The Uptown and The Lagoon have had pretty slow years so far, and while The Edina is "busy" compared to its sister theaters, is slow compared to any of the AMC theaters and big multiplexes.

    In Bruges actually has had a bit of a resurgence, as it was split screened for a good month or so and is now back to a full schedule, as it is now the second busiest film at The Lagoon behind The Visitor.

    While it is rare their are still a few films that play all the way to their DVD release date. I know the Edina played The Queen about a month after its DVD release date, and it was still drawing in decent crowds.

  16. That's true, Marilyn. I missed a week-long run of the 1927 Metropolis a few weeks ago.

    Fletch, my apologies for jumping on your boat! I must have missed that in the TGITDNMAR. Regarding your theory about the lack of releases, well, I wanted to believe that but there were several that were continuing to come out each week throughout the spring, even within the same indie theater. But some would come for only a week or two while In Bruges would just sit there like a lazy dog.

    Here's an important update, by the way, as the times are now up for this week:

    In Bruges WILL BE GONE FROM MINNEAPOLIS ON THURSDAY, as predicted...unless it heads to a discount theater, as in your case, Miranda.

    Thank you so much for your terrific insights - great examples! I would have expected Star Wars and Jaws to last like that (and I think did read about it), but I do agree that the days of year-long engagements (not to be confused with A Very Long Engagement, which only played for a few weeks...) are probably over. Even Titanic didn't go for a full year, from my memory.

    Bringing up the DVD release dates is interesting, too. At one point I thought we were going to see a full theater/DVD/online rollout on the same date, like Soderbergh did with Bubble, but it seems like that trend was over before it began. I don't foresee that it will happen with blockbusters like The Dark Knight - ever. Certainly I would be opposed, as it sounds you are. I think the cinematic experience is in its purest form in the theater. No offense to those who justifiably avoid theaters for a variety of reasons. I just massively prefer the theater for most movies, especially for a first viewing.

    Haha, thanks for the story, Alexander. I'm sure that woman has had to think twice about bringing her friends to the movies again. You're right that it has an odd appeal - dark comedy fans, crime/murder fans, Colin Farrell fans, indie fans. Still, I don't think it reached a larger audience after the first few weeks or anything. Everybody who wanted to see it should have in the first month.

    And yes, I've noticed that the summer turnover has been pretty quick here in the last month. Nayana mentioned Prince Caspian, which along Speed Racer is a blockbuster that didn't last long. Other indies only had a week here, like Reprise or SOP, which I actually just assumed were still around.

  17. So weird, Rachel. I don't know how they ignore markets like that - especially after showing the trailer! Regarding TWBB, well I don't know, I guess it might have had enough crazed fans to demand the in-theater experience for as long as possible. If you're missing out on newer movies, though, I say boo.

    A friend of mine who works at a local theater says a number of distributors demand multiple screens for opening weekend - like it's a contractual obligation to show 5 prints of The Love Guru. All or nothing, apparently. That's kind of disconcerting...

    Thanks for stopping by, Matt, and welcome to LAMB, by the way. Are you a local? I can only assume so with such knowledge of the local scene. That's fantastic, and thanks for putting me in place by clearly explaining the extended IB run at the Lagoon. Why is it that Edina (another Landmark nearby for the rest of you) gets such limited releases? Anyway, thanks for the info and hope to see you here often!

  18. Yip, just checked, and "In Bruges" opens in SA on the 19th of September, the day before my birthday.

    I am SO downloading it this week.

  19. Go for it, Nick. By that time (Oscar season) there will be a host of other quality movies occupying screens.

  20. I am very much local, as I work for Landmark. :)

    Their are several reasons why the theaters are scheduled the way they are.

    1) Uptown is an exclusive only theater. Meaning the only movies they show their can not be showing anywhere else in the Twin Cities. This is why on occassion it doesn't show huge Independent films and will instead show a smaller film. Landmark pays through the nose to get exclusives though, and they usually do a pretty fair job of trying to get any of the big Indies in The Uptown before anywhere else.

    2) The Edina has two primary reasons why it has very different scheduling then the other two. Primarily it is because it is in Edina (even though literally 100 feet away you would be in Mpls) and its clientel skewers much, much older then either The Uptown or The Lagoon. While our regulars will watch movies at all three theaters, The Edina absolutely rakes in the money with any movies aimed at people over the age of 40. Judy Dench is really big there. Also, because The Edina is only two miles away from the elephant that is Southdale, it is forced to schedule movies that won't show there. So even though some movies might play very well at The Edina, if Southdale is showing it, it will never show there. Because of that The Edina tends to get a lot of documentaries and well known foreign films (ie British and anything based on a best selling book).

    But as for short runs, that really depends on the films. Landmark will usually make an agreement with the distributer on a minimum length to run a film, and if the film grosses a certain dollar amount during that run they will extend it. That's why In Bruges lasted so long, as it cleared the required minimum every week. So if it making money, and other films are not, it is an easy choice on which film to keep.

    I think that covered everything.

  21. I think it's quaint when a film stays in a theater longer than a month. And I can't believe that IN BRUGES would still be playing if it wasn't bringing in a little cash.

  22. Aha, I figured as much, Matt, what with your knowledge of the theater stats. Thanks for shedding light on the entire situation, especially the minimum requirements that will keep a film going longer.

    The Uptown exclusive deal is not a surprise to me, though I guess I never put two and two together. Although I still question some of the exclusive engagements at Edina - I think something like Priceless, for example, would have played well at the Uptown at least for a week. As you mention, though, the moviegoers in Edina are much older and richer than anybody else, and something like Priceless, well...yeah. Also, I saw The Queen at the Uptown but I do remember that long run it had at Edina.

    Anyway, you've given me a much better understanding of everything. I guess I just still hold some resentment toward the - ahem - "clientele" in Edina, especially since they probably demand to be called that...

    You got it, Christian - if it makes money, it stays. If it's a nice little movie, I'm fine with it. Quaint indeed.

  23. I'm with Christian, but it surprises the hell out of me to see that In Bruges is that movie. I liked it, but how many movies come and go in the blink of an eye?

    It opened in LA on February 8. I'd have to drive over to Pasadena, but I could see it if I wanted to more than 4 months later.


  24. It all goes back to Farrell's quote, Craig. But hey, Matt gave us the goods on why. Apparently people just haven't been able to see this movie enough times - consistently, for four months. A fact which still stuns me. Gotta go with the market, I guess.

  25. Bringing it back to the local perspective a bit...the Edina is a total mystery to me: how it stays so busy and why they play the films they do. It seems that some of the more interesting films go to the Edina rather that the Lagoon, despite age skewing. The most recent examples I have are 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days and Redacted. Perhaps it's the hard sell that sends them to the only place they have a chance to succeed. (Another example that is years old at this point is the one week run of Lilya 4-Ever at the Edina. If I hadn't actually gone to that film with someone, I think I would have a hard time proving that that film actually played here.)

    I'll admit that I am disappointed when Landmark will keep a film like In Bruges for so long while passing over so many other films they could play. In Bruges might be gone from the Lagoon, but now Get Smart is playing there...and at every other multiplex in town. On the other hand, I realize they need to make money, and am always saddened by the lack of people in theaters these days, especailly "arthouse" theaters.

  26. Thanks for adding more local insight, Kathie. While Matt explained the In Bruges run and overall Landmark situation to my satisfaction, I still do wonder why more of those exclusive runs can't happen at the Uptown instead. 4 Months is a great example. On paper it seems like a movie that would do much better with the demographics of Uptown than Edina. Who knows? I'm sure there's no perfect solution, and clearly they have to follow the market/box-office numbers and not their hunches.

    But about Get Smart - yeah, I'm actually REALLY concerned about that. I also see that The Dark Knight is likely going to be playing at Lagoon. I don't know if that's a top-down strategy from Mark Cuban and Landmark Theatres or if it's a local situation, but it doesn't bode well for the future. I know there are some Landmarks around the country that have basically turned into wide-release theaters, of which we already have plenty here. Uggh. Imagine The Love Guru 2 opening at Uptown in 2010?

  27. I worked at an independent one-screen theatre back in the day. I remember that in the six months before the business was sold, we only showed two movies, Chicago and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It was a long six months.


  28. Thanks for the visit, Scott.

    I imagine the verdict was already in for the theater beforehand, but those two movies, despite their individual success, probably could have been switched out to get fresher audiences in there. Definitely two you could get annoyed with...


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