None of the three big mainstream movies opening Sept. 5 were screened for critics in San Antonio. What’s a critic to do when he can’t see a movie before it hits theaters? How will he make a recommendation or warn moviegoers about all the new releases? Well, folks, this week you’re basically on your own (at least until the end of the weekend). Out of the five new movies that are opening in San Antonio, I have seen a total of one. Want to know why? Read on…

So, here’s how it works for film critics: Big Hollywood studios pay other companies to market and publicize their movies in specific markets. Usually, studios are really great about allowing film critics to see the movie before it hits theaters. It’s great when they allow us to see something at least two weeks in advance, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes they will screen a movie for us the week it opens, which means, if you write for a newspaper or website with a deadline, chances are you’re not going to get a review in on time. Lucky for me, if the studios decides to screen something for me the night before it hits theaters, I can go home and write a review and have it posted for opening day. Of course, I can’t do that for the publications I write for since deadlines are much tighter.

Now, sometimes studios decide not to screen a movie for critics. Why you ask? Who knows? The consensus is that studios do this because they feel negative reviews of the movie will hurt its box office draw. The consensus is also that if a studio does not screen a film for critics, it’s the kiss of death criticially. Most of the films not screened tend to be pretty bad, although there have been some exceptions. More times than not, the mainstream movies that are not screened are from the horror or comedy genre.

Now, remember, we’re only talking about mainstream movies here. When independent/foreign/arthouse films are not screened it’s a different story. Most of the time, indie films roll out so sporadically across the world, it’s not in the studio’s best interest to have special screening cost-wise.  Still, many times studios have screenings for these films even if they are solely for critics, which is always helpful. Other times, the studio will send a screener straight to a critic so he or she can watch it at home and then drop it back in the mail. Usually, this is only done for the smaller films.

So, what  happened this week? Why so few reviews on a day when five new movies opened in San Antonio? Well, here is the quick overview. “Gamer” and “All About Steve” can be categorized under the kiss of death scenario. Studios didn’t want too many critics watching it before opening day. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s terrible, but you never know until you see it yourself.  “Extract” was a bit different. It was screened for some critics, but wasn’t screened in the San Antonio market. Why? Again, who knows, but if I was a betting man, I would bet it probably has something to do with media market size.

Then finally, the smaller movies of the week were “Soul Power” (a documentary), which I was lucky enough to see at a critics-only screening and “Lemon Tree” (a foreign film playing exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Theatre), which was not screened nor was it sent out as a screener.

So, here is where the problem lies for me. I am a website of one. I don’t have a staff of 10 like other movie review sites nor do I want a staff of 10. If 10 movies come out in one week, that other website can assign one review to each writer. I, however, prefer to write all 10 on my own. So, the problem? When a studio doesn’t screen a movie, I still usually try to go out and see it anyway during opening weekend (no, I don’t have to pay for the movie. Santikos is cool like that.). But take this week for example. If I go see the four movies that were not screened for me, when the heck am I going to have time to sit down and write four400-500-word reviews? I know, complain, complain, moan, moan. But seriously. When? By the time I know it, it’s already Monday and I’m going head-to-head with a whole new batch of movies.

So, here is my solution: I will still go see most of the movies that are not screened for me, but I am going start writing only short 100-word reviews for these specific movies and start placing them in a new section on called CineStrays. This is where all the stray movies will find themselves if they choose not to be screened. I think this will make for a much-less stressed-out CineSnob who is trying to play catch up. It will also let website visitors know just which mainstream movies went Missing in Action for the week.

So, watch out for the CineStray section next week. And keep visiting for all my movie reviews, celebrity interviews, and contests!

Kiko Martinez
Film Critic/writer

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