Monday, June 30, 2008

Weekend Final Numbers - Wall-E frontloaded?

The List

Again, I waited till the final numbers were released because the estimates seemed somewhat off.

But, yes, it seems that Wall-E was downright front loaded, especially for an animated film. Ending the weekend with $63.1 million, it had a weekend multiplier of 2.7. To put it in more disturbing perspective, it opened with $3 million more on Friday than The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, yet those two pictures ended the weekend about $7 million ahead (both closed out with a touch over $70 million). Front loading? Less than stellar word of mouth? I don't know. The critics raved, but I have no idea how moviegoers in general will take to this downbeat and arty tone poem. Is it good? Yes, it's visually astonishing, and the ideas, while not totally original, are nourishing and worthwhile (it seems to mix elements of There Will Be Blood, Minority Report, and Idiocracy). I'd place it in the Million Dollar Baby category of great, flawed movies that I will probably never want to watch again.
MILD SPOILER - To answer the questions that have been buzzing - yes, it's about the environment, yes it's about Wal-Mart, and yes it's about obesity.

Make no mistake, this is a terrific three-day total for an artistically daring animated feature. Ratatouille did about 4x it's opening weekend by the end of its domestic run. Finding Nemo opened to $70 million and made it all the way to $339 million (4.84x its opening). The low mark is still The Incredibles, which did a 'mere' 3.7x it's $70 million opening (odd, since that is one of their very best pictures and it had one of the smallest second-weekend drops for a $50 million+ opening ever).

Anyway, if Wall-E plays like The Incredibles, it'll end up with $235 million. If it falls below even that to, for example, a mere 3.25x, it'll still end up matching the $204 million of Ratatouille. My own misgivings about its future aside, it'll have to crash and burn pretty hard to qualify as anything other than a solid financial hit. And, frankly, I expect the art house nature and vaguely anti-capitalistic leanings of the picture to be a big boon overseas (every right-wing article or pundit who calls Wall-E 'anti-American' sends another $10 into the overseas ticket coffers).

Onto to movies that deserve to die (tell you why, Ms. Lovett, tell you why...), Wanted turned into a mega-hit whose marketing resonated with several key movie going audiences. Joke's on them, but I digress. Action junkies, date-crowds, nerds, and potentially feminists showed up in force to give Wanted a $50.9 million opening weekend. Shockingly, this had almost as high a multiplier as Wall-E (2.67x). This is easily the biggest R-rated opening ever in June and the seventh biggest R-rated opening ever, just behind 8 Mile's $51.2 million back in November 2002 (you'd have thought that Universal could have found three-hundred grand lying around somewhere). Of course, a shockingly high R-rated opening always begs the question of what PG-13 and under movies benefited from fraudulent ticket purchases? Anyway, I hate the movie, but I suppose the major successes of R-rated movies this summer (Sex & The City, Wanted, The Happening) is a good thing. I'm expecting a HUGE drop for this one, but I'm a tad biased.

In other news, Paramount successfully fudged the Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull numbers from Sunday's estimates. On Sunday, it was at something like $299.999999999 million, and sure enough the final numbers found enough loose change to allow it to cross the $300 million mark by the end of weekend six and day 39 (tied with Transformers and nine days ahead of Iron Man). Mazel Tov, Henry Jones Jr, mazel-tov.

Get Smart dropped 47% and ended day ten with a solid $77 million. Expect it to cross $100 million over the long holiday and end up a bit below $150 million. At $82 million, this was a solid investment for Warner.

In the 'glass is half full' column, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening has now doubled its $60 million budget worldwide and will likely turn a tidy profit when all is said and done. In the 'glass half-empty column', of course, it's an allegedly terrible movie that has permanently scarred M. Night Shyamalan's once highly-touted artistic reputation. But, at least it'll make money, right?

In the 'glass is half full' column for The Love Guru... uh, I got nothing. It'll end out at $35 million on a $60 million budget. Good.

Speaking of not-so solid investments... guess what inexplicably acclaimed and far more expensive sequel will possibly fail to surpass the 'underwhelming' domestic box office of its original? If you guessed The Incredible Hulk, you're smarter than Marvel Studios! Dropping another 57%, Hulk not-quite 2 ended weekend three with a mere $116 million. With the never ending supply of Hulk-killers waiting in the wings (Hancock, Hellboy II, The Dark Knight, X-Files 2, Mummy 3, Tropic Thunder, Star Wars: Clone Wars), this bonehead play has at best $20 million left in it (2003's The Hulk had $117 million at this point and would only make another $15 million by the end of its run). So, you have a $160 million sequel to a $130 million movie that grossed $132 million which will be lucky to make $140 million. That's ok Marvel, I'm sure Ant Man will save you.

In the better news department, after hemorrhaging for the first two full weeks after its sensational opening day, Sex & The City finally stabilized with 45%-ish drops and it now has crossed the $140 million mark. Expect it to crawl to $150 million.

Next weekend we have the critically divisive Hancock and the expansion of Kitt Kitridge: An American Girl, which has been going gangbusters in very limited release for the last ten days.

Scott Mendelson

Quantum Of Solace trailer goes online...

Here's a Movie Box link for downloads...

At a glance...

This is a very confident teaser. I have always enjoyed the teasers for the second film in each Bond actor's career. The familiarity and the fearlessness on display. They know Craig works just fine, just as the teaser for Tomorrow Never Dies made it seem like Brosnan was always there.

The film seems in danger of again doing the 'Bond makes it personal and goes off the grid in his quest for vengeance' plot line that was used in License To Kill and sampled in Diamonds Are Forever. Don't ya just love how the cold, vengeance-fueled Bond that everyone hated in Timothy Dalton with License To Kill is now considered hip and cool? For the record, take another gander at The Living Daylights. It's easily the most 'real-world' and complicated James Bond movie ever. Even more than Goldeneye or From Russia With Love, you really have to pay attention in this one.

The action seems far more over the top and stunt packed than Casino Royale. It'll be interesting if Marc Forster can keep a balance with the new, more down-to-earth tone and the potentially super heroic action on display.

To be fair, I'm still annoyed that Martin Campbell wasn't asked back. Martin Campbell made two vastly different 007 films (Goldeneye and Casino Royale), and they are both two of the best non-Connery Bonds ever. The key is keeping the characters grounded and intelligent, and making the action fluid and logical enough to follow and enjoy. Bitter pill that Martin Campbell never got credit for either of his two rejuvenations of this series. In a just world, he would have become the new Terrance Young after Casino Royale.

Last note - how the heck are they going to write a semi-coherent Bond song with the lyrics 'Quantum Of Solace'? I'm betting they cheat, as they did with 'All Time High' in Octopussy, and just ignore the title.

Review: Hancock (2008)

95 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Hancock is not a perfect film and the third act seems a little rushed (it's no secret that it was cut from 115 minutes to 95 minutes), but this is a real movie, not an assembly-line factory confection. There is strong acting from all parties, including Will Smith, Jason Bateman, and Charlize Theron. In particular, Jason Bateman as Ray takes a character that could have been a stock cardboard cut-out, a sounding board at which the plot unfolds, and he makes him into a sympathetic flesh and blood human being. Ray's attempts to convince corporations to engage in wholesale charity is played for real, and his explanation of how he met his wife is both touching and surprisingly honest. A lesser movie would have used his decency and his desire to do good as a punchline, but this movie takes it very seriously, and its that desire that drives the movie in ways both expected and unexpected.

Will Smith doesn't shy away from making the character not only unlikable, but also desperately sad and confused. He does great deeds and thinks that should be enough, and he doesn't understand why he should have to be polite and humble when he's saving lives (a subtle critique of the current issues that America has with the rest of the world?). But, like Bateman, he has an inherent want to help people and do good, and that drives him to fight crime even when the public hates him for it. For reasons that I won't reveal, Hancock believes that he is deserving of his scorn and thus takes no steps to correct it.

Much has been said of the third-act change. It is not a twist per se, as it's obviously telegraphed from the opening scenes. But it is a progression of story and that may be what is jolting the critics. It is rare in these days for mainstream movies to have stories that gradually unfold throughout all three acts. Usually, 90% of the story is told in the first act and the rest of pay-off. Not Hancock, it has a story, it has a plot, and it's a plot that unfolds over the entire movie. Even in the final scenes, we are still seeing character development and still learning new things about the world that we have been dropped into. The climax contains action, but it is brutal, unglamourous, emotionally compelling action, and the climactic violence is merely a means to allow character choices to be made and relationships to strengthen, weaken, or change. In fact, all of the action scenes are driven by the story and character actions and they all serve important story elements.

How refreshing that Sony chose to withhold this information, to allow moviegoers to actually be surprised for once. The trailers reveal only the first act and bits of the second act, and in that sense the trailers are accurate. The first act is very funny and the second act does some fun things with the idea of a superhero rehabilitating himself (not enough, and I'd wager that stuff was cut from this section). The climax of the second act also has a great dialogue scene with the three leads that is revealing and uncommonly well-written for this genre (this is where Bateman's story of meeting Theron comes in). And even the third-act has an emotional oomph that builds to an absolutely lovely coda just before the credits role.

How distressing that Sony seems to be getting attacked for not revealing the entire film in a three-minute advertisement. It's as if critics are taken aback at actually not knowing where the story was going. God forbid we actually not know every plot point before we see the movie. Sony should be commended for withholding plot points in the marketing. And, apparent tinkering aside, they should be commended for financing this $150 million tentpoler and allowing Peter Berg to make a film that is very much a distinct point of view and actually has a brain. Peter Berg's Hancock is a truly engaging and emotionally compelling character drama that happens to be disguised as a broad superhero satire. It's not a perfect film, and I can't wait to see an extended version, but Hancock is far better than the critical buzz and is a completely compelling motion picture.

Grade: A-

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Batman In The Movies - The narrative arc of Bruce Wayne in the first film series...

The first four Batman pictures are many things to many people. In this essay we will be dealing with the connective tissue of all four films, under the concept that, be it accidental or intentional, there really is a continuity in the four original Batman films, specifically with the character development of Bruce Wayne. It isn't ironclad and the differing creative hands weakens the thru-line, but there is a narrative continuity that indeed exists from Batman to Batman & Robin.

Batman- As a person in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne is merely a non-entity. As we see throughout the picture, he is merely a name, 'that rich guy' that people have heard about but few have actually met. No one recognizes him at his own party in his own house, and Jack Napier doesn't recognize him when he crashes Vicki Vale's apartment. As far as we know, Wayne Enterprises does not exist and his charity work is halfhearted at best. The only evidence of his charity is a donation basket at the Mayoral Ball, which collects money to 'save the 200th anniversary festival'.

Since Bruce Wayne is not a public figure and barely a cipher, his emergence as Batman does not raise any red flags in relation to Bruce Wayne. In the first Batman, Bruce Wayne is barely a shell of a man, not even a disguise but merely a vessel to create and purchase the things that Batman will need to function. For all intents and purposes, Bruce Wayne does not exist. Only Vicki Vale and Alfred Pennyworth make half-hearted efforts to bring Wayne out of his cocoon. Referring to Bruce's obsession with his parents' murders, Alfred bitterly exclaims: "I have no wish to spend my few remaining years mourning the loss of old friends... or their sons."

Forced to choose between loving Vicki Vale as Bruce Wayne and risking losing her as Batman, he chooses Batman. At the end, Batman avenges his parents and establishes himself as a force for good in Gotham City. TRIVIA - In the original Sam Hamm script, reporter Alexander Knox figures out Bruce's secret when Vicki does and confronts him about it. Vicki and Alex are closer friends in this draft and he demands that Wayne make a choice between being Batman or loving Vicki as Bruce Wayne. In the original script, this is rendered moot when Knox is killed in the climactic festival massacre. In this context, Jack Napier's transformation, physically and mentally, into The Joker is an example of a rational man completely giving himself over to a new, more extreme identity (this is a reoccurring theme in the Batman comics, especially with the rogues gallery). Jack Napier is dead, Joker claims, and he is right. Jack Napier has been submerged, permanently, and only The Joker remains.

When The Joker and Bruce Wayne confront each other in Vicki Vale's apartment, Bruce Wayne makes a calculated decision to 'be Bruce Wayne' in a situation where Batman would be more appropriate. In this moment, we see a flash of what Bruce Wayne might be like if Batman completely took over his personality. In essence, we see Batman pretending to be Bruce Wayne. The irony is that it is in this scene that he learns the knowledge that will allow him to avenge his parents and begin the eventual slow slog to contentment and mental stability. Batman's triumph is Bruce Wayne's defeat, as he risks completely destroying the Bruce Wayne persona in his quest for vengeance. At the end of Batman, more so than even at the beginning, Bruce Wayne is a non-entity and there is only Batman.

Batman Returns - With Bruce Wayne's parents avenged and Batman considered a friend to Gotham, Bruce Wayne is pretty much irrelevant. More importantly, Bruce Wayne is forgetting how to be Bruce Wayne in any normal setting. He is awkward in business meetings, has no life as himself, and struggles to be in a relationship as Bruce Wayne. We first see him literally sitting in a chair, staring at a wall, waiting to the Bat Signal to give him a purpose. As the picture unfolds, the three villains who emerge seem to represent various sides of him - the bitter, abandoned orphan (Penguin), the ruthless businessman (Max Shreck), and the reckless vigilante (Catwoman). These are all things that Bruce Wayne could become.

Wayne's initial suspicion comes from Cobblepot's overly forgiving attitude towards parents who literally tossed him into a sewer when he was a baby. Since Wayne probably occasionally harbors feelings that his parents abandoned him, and then the guilt that follows such thoughts, he is suspicious if not jealous of this fellow orphan. Here is a freak of a man, living in the sewers for thirty-three years, and, on the surface, he seems better adjusted than Bruce Wayne. Max Shreck is the ruthless and psychotic businessman that most people probably expect Bruce Wayne to be. If Bruce Wayne is to use his money and power as a means to do business, Shreck is a warning sign to the kinds of moral shortcuts and contempt for fairness that Wayne must avoid.

Catwoman is a wild murderous vigilante who inspires both Bruce Wayne and Batman's interest. Of course, because Bruce Wayne is now an act, and a poor act at that, Bruce Wayne's relationship with Selena Kyle (who is also now playing pretend while out of costume) is doomed. Only as Batman and Catwoman can these two people be themselves and find a connection. While on their first date, Bruce and Selina make awkward small talk, only creating sparks when they drop their acts a little bit (of course, once that happens, the bruises and scars from their other lives interfere). One could argue that Selina only falls for Bruce because he is the first man to be kind to her in a long time, but that is for another day.

In the end, The Penguin (the bitter orphan) is dead , Max Shreck (the corrupt businessman) is dead, and Catwoman (the reckless, murderous vigilante) is presumed dead. These three parts of Bruce Wayne that he fears unleashing have been squashed. Selina has died partially because Bruce was unable to relate to her as Bruce. Due to The Penguin and Catwoman's prior machinations, Batman is viewed with distrust and suspicion and Bruce Wayne is still a complete non-entity.

Batman Forever - In the years since Batman Returns, Bruce Wayne is now a vibrant and important part of Gotham society. Wayne Enterprises is now a major force for business wealth and social good, he is a popular and respected socialite. His morals are beyond compare as is his empathy (faced with the apparent suicide of an underling, he demands full benefits for the man's family, even if the insurance policy won't cover it). He is respected and admired, and he has a measure of success as Bruce Wayne. And, unlike the comic book continuity and the Nolan films, he doesn't have to play a useless idiot in public to deflect suspicion away from his other identity; a stupid storytelling choice that neuters the whole character as a force for good.

Now, however, it is Batman that is struggling. Both of the villains in the picture, The Riddler and Two-Face are concerned solely with killing Batman. In fact, it is Bruce Wayne's abdication of his role as Bruce Wayne that creates The Riddler. Responding to the bat-signal (a false alarm, no less), his swift departure from a meeting with Edward Nygma fuels his mania and sends Nygma over the edge. Ironically, while The Riddler helps Two-Face attempt to humiliate and murder Batman, Edward Nygma concentrates on humiliating and crushing Bruce Wayne. In a film about duality, Edward Nygma seems to do the best job of juggling his two identities.

For much of the film, he struggles with just why he is forcing himself to be Batman, whether he should give that up and just be Bruce Wayne. He has fallen in love with Dr. Chase Meridian, but she seems more interested in Batman. He is almost incompetent as Batman, allowing Two-Face to constantly escape and finding himself unable to track down The Riddler. And after Dick Grayson's parents are murdered by Two-Face (in a bid to lure Batman, no less), Wayne is faced with repressed memories dealing with his own parents. Plus, he sees Dick Grayson going down the same murderous path that once left Bruce Wayne isolated and alone (the original script had direct references to the fact that Batman had shed blood in the first two films). Deciding that he can do more good as Bruce Wayne, and wanting to save Dick Grayson from going down a similar path, he decides to quit being Batman and just be Bruce Wayne. But, in a twist of fate, his enemies have just discovered his secret and invade Wayne Manor. On the very night he resolves to abandon the cape and cowl, an emergency emerges that demands that Batman take action.

Of course, in the end, he rescues both Chase Meridian and Dick Grayson because neither part of his life need dominate the other. By the film's end, he has absolved himself of guilt for his parents' death. Further fleshed out in the original script and deleted scenes on the DVD, Bruce realizes that while he asked his parents to go to the movies the night of their deaths (the source of his guilt), it's not his fault as they ended up seeing the movie that Martha wanted to see. Plus, he has maintained new relationships with both egos. Dick Grayson loses his need for murderous revenge and becomes Robin and Dr. Chase Meridian is willing to try a relationship with Bruce Wayne. Because Bruce Wayne no longer feels guilt over his parents, being Batman is now a choice and thus he can do it purely because he wants to help his city. For the first time as an adult, Bruce Wayne and Batman can co-exist and thus are happy.

Batman & Robin - Bruce Wayne is content. Batman is a beloved force for justice. Wayne has dealt with his parents' death and remains a billionaire socialite and philanthropist. The crime that exists in Gotham is in no way caused by Batman. Both Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are created by outside forces and basically exist outside the primary story arc (this is actually one of the problems with the picture, that the villains don't really have a purpose in the story other than to give Batman someone to fight). Batman is beloved by the populace and respective by the police. Bruce Wayne is a respected member of the community. All is well.

In this film, the challenges for Bruce Wayne involve the future. Bruce Wayne struggles with being a father figure to Dick Grayson, even while Alfred, his own father figure, lies at death's door. These are new challenges to Bruce Wayne, but they can be overcome because he is healthy and sane. As the film progresses, Bruce mends fences with Dick Grayson, accepting him not as a son but as a brother and trusted friend. Bruce confesses just how much Alfred has meant to him while Alfred uses his time to contact long-lost family and thank Bruce for allowing him to be part of the good that Batman does (take away everything else from this justifiably ridiculed movie, but the conversations between Bruce and Alfred are genuinely moving and compelling). Alfred is saved from illness, but Bruce knows that when Alfred dies, it will be OK, both because he has accepted that he can't save everyone. At the conclusion of Batman & Robin (and the original series), Bruce Wayne has built a new family, with Dick and Alfred's niece Barbara, that Alfred, Thomas, and Martha would be proud of. The End.

Whatever issues we have may with the much-criticized fourth film, the story being told actually makes a fitting conclusion to the story as it began in Batman back in 1989. We go from Batman overtaking Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne struggling to justify his existence, a newly emergent Bruce Wayne struggling to be both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and then a content Bruce Wayne/Batman dealing with the future and starting his own family. The man who had his family ripped from him at a tender age now happily exists as a respected and beloved do-gooder with a new family of his very own.

Scott Mendelson

Friday numbers roll in...

The List
Wall E - Pulls in a terrific $23.3 million on opening day. If this plays like a general audience pleaser (ala Kung Fu Panda), it'll pull in about $71 million, making it the second-biggest non-sequel animated opening (behind The Simpsons which pulled in $74 million last year off a $30 million frontloaded Friday). If it plays like a family picture, it will explode over the Saturday and Sunday matinees and $85 million isn't out of the question.

As far as multipliers go, 3.0x is $70 million, 3.5x is $81 million, and 3.64x is $85 million. For what it's worth, the last two Pixar pictures (Cars and Ratatouille) had 3.0x multipliers while Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles had 3.5x multipliers. I'm betting that Disney/Pixar will find a way to get to at least $75 million to claim that best-non-sequel cartoon opening. Either way, this is a huge opening day for a very unconventional cartoon (I'll see it today or tomorrow afternoon).
Wanted - I hate this movie, but the critics overall do not. I seem to be playing the contrarian this summer (alas, this means I'll likely love The Happening and dislike The Dark Knight... god forbid). Anyway, this one pulled in a better than expected $18.7 million. I don't know the exact figure, but I know that Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider (another horrible film) pulled in more than $18 million on June 15th, 2001. That was pretty frontloaded and ended up with $48 million, before collapsing due to terrible word of mouth and ending up with $131 million (a textbook 'quick-kill blockbuster'). Ironically, the 2003 sequel, Cradle Of Life, was much better but since no one liked the original, the sequel made only about $65 million (it was also the rare case where a sequel cost less than the original - $95 million vs $115 million).

So I'm pretty sure this is Jolie's biggest opening day in a live-action film. And since apparently this is playing as a date movie (funny, considering that Jolie is tricking women into thinking they'll enjoy this misogynistic crap, crap where Jolie barely gets to do any action at all after the first act), frontloading shouldn't be too severe, so a $50 million total is not out of the question.

If so, this will be the second $50 million+ opening starring a female in exactly a month. Regardless of my issues with the film, I suppose this is a good thing. Let's see how Kit Kittredge does when it goes wide next weekend, and how Sisterhood of of Tightening... er... Traveling Pants 2 does on August 6th (vulgarity aside, the first one was surprisingly moving and an all-around good movie).

Get Smart drops about 50% to $6.6 million, so it'll likely level out to a decent 45% drop. Look for solid business for the next month as it becomes the safe impulse movie or second-choice.

The Love Guru and The Happening both dropped about 65%. No surprises there. Huge damage is done to the reputations of both M, Night Shyamalan and Mike Myers, although Shyamalan's picture will make a profit in the end (it's overseas total of $60 million has already surpassed the $56 million domestic gross and it will have already doubled its $60 million budget at the global box office as of tomorrow).

More to come tomorrow or Monday, depending on how much news there is.

Scott Mendelson
"I prefer to watch shitty movies so I can feel good about myself. There is nothing better than sitting in bed and enjoying a shitty comedy. I laugh at the bad jokes and I smile as I convince myself, as I often need to, that my work doesn't suck as bad as what I am watching. It gives me the confidence to make movies. I call them movies to have the flu by -- movies that are great if you need to kill time while sitting in bed with the flu." -- Judd Apatow.

I do the same thing, but for different reasons. Aside from not wanting to waste a good film when you're feeling sick and/or sad (you don't want to associate the film with a bad day or a bad event), when you're sick, your tolerance becomes lower and your standards become almost non-existent. Everything is entertaining, sad, or funny. The Fog is terrifying at 3am in the morning when you're half asleep. And as for things being funnier when you're sick...

When I was about eleven, I was out of school for about two weeks due to a flu that became phenomena. I distinctly recall lying on a couch in the study under 'the sick blanket' (a thick, comfy quilt that was reserved for when you were sick) and watching a random episode of Tiny Toons. Even at eleven, I knew that Tiny Toons was mainly mediocre, with hints of cleverness and growing pains that paved the way for Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain. Anyway, I'm watching this random episode of Tiny Toons, and every single punchline had me laughing so hard that I couldn't breathe. It was the weirdest thing I would experience for many years.

Ages later, last year, while I was home sick from work during the period that my wife was pregnant, I caught a nasty case of 'sympathy symptoms'. In this case, emotionalism was my symptom. I knew something was up when I caught the denouement of Batman Begins and watered up a little during the final scenes at the charred remains of Wayne Manor. It only got worse. I was watching various episodes of The West Wing, seasons 1 and 2 (the episodes with commentary), and I swear I watered up at every single emotional beat, happy and sad. It was the strangest thing...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Weekend Box Office Bingo...

Not much to report here...

Wall-E - with universally fantastic reviews, and manufactured controversy about the film's content (it's about the environment, no it's about fat people, no it's about consumerism, etc), expect a solid $65 million this weekend, with terrific legs to follow. But, anything above $50 million is just fine for this downright ballsy art house cartoon that's sure to be popular and leggy.

Wanted - It's terrible, but the critics overall seem to be giving it a pass. The marketing has been solid and there is real desire for a hard-R violence-filled action film. On that note, this film more or less delivers. So expect Wanted to debut to about $35 million (anything over $30 million is a triumph), which will hopefully help ease talk about whether women can open action films if they have at least the appearance of quality. James McAvoy is the star, but this thing is being sold completely on Angelina Jolie.

More tomorrow when the actual numbers pour in.

Scott Mendelson

Hancock is terrible... because it's not a family film and thus shouldn't open on July 4th weekend?

Roger Friedman of calls Hancock 'Will Smith's $150 million Disaster'. But it is not a critique, but rather a judgment based on a false premise. Namely that July 4th is for family movies and thus Hancock should be a family movie.

Um, how about we review the movie and not whether it is appropriate for children. A) it's PG-13, the same rating as Smith's decidedly not for kids I Am Legend. B) July 4th is not necessarily a family film weekend by law.

In 1991, Terminator 2 broke records ($55 million in five-days) on this weekend. In 1992, Eddie Murphy opened the R-rated Boomerang. In 1993, the big smash that weekend was The Firm, an R-rated 2.5 hour legal thriller. Blown Away, Judge Dredd, The Patriot, Scary Movie 2, Terminator 3, War Of The Worlds (PG-13 but certainly not for kids either)... The list goes on and on.

Most of Friedman's rant is over the fact that it is a film that is inappropriate for young children and that Smith dares to star in an unlikable role. I knew that from the trailer, to say nothing of the media reports detailing the film's struggle to avoid an R. This isn't news and it isn't a review. Hell, it's not even gossip, but rather an attempt to create controversy where none exists.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Um... Meet Dave... opens July 11th. Don't Panic!

$20 says that's funnier than anything in the movie Meet Dave. So, if you're on the road and you see that, you're not drunk, you're not dreaming, and you're not having a flashback. It's also not a hostile alien invader, so please do not shoot at it or try to run it off the road. This has been Scott Mendelson's Traffic Safety Tidbit for the day. Drive safe, or Eddie Murphy will eat you and your family.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

X-Files: I Want To Believe - shoulda been an 'R'.

Of all the movies coming out this summer, there is one movie that probably would have benefited most from getting an R-rating instead of PG-13: X-Files: I Want To Believe.

First of all, the show has been off the air since 2002, so even if you a mere eleven when the finale aired, you're already seventeen now and thus could buy a ticket for any R-rated film. Second of all, after a six year gap between the show and the movie and a ten-year gap between movies, there needs to be something more to entice the casual fans, the ones who quit before the end and never looked back.

The show always pushed the boundaries of acceptable television violence and intensity, so why not give fans a taste of what the franchise could have been like without content restrictions. A PG-13 X-Files 2 has fans curious and somewhat nostalgic. An R-rated X-Files film would do that much more to create excitement. Keep in mind that this film probably didn't cost much more than the $60 million they spent on 'Fight The Future'. It doesn't need to be a four-quadrant smash hit to be heavily profitable (future note - the budget ended up being a mere $30 million).

Obviously, it isn't going to happen. The film has already been rated PG-13 'for violent and disturbing content and thematic material'. But it is a lost opportunity and should be noted as such.

Scott Mendelson

Hancock: The Comprised Cut?

David Poland of Movie City News is up with a surprisingly positive and refreshingly spoiler-free look at Hancock. It's the kind of review that makes me see a movie that I was previously lukewarm on. I share his affection for The Rundown and I love Friday Night Lights (didn't like The Kingdom much, but that was for reasons seemingly unrelated to Berg). But there is another big factor to consider.

According to Arclight Cinemas, it's a mere 92 minutes. It was previously listed as 115 minutes. As many know from the New York Times article back in May, the film has been batted around many times as the filmmakers struggled to get a PG-13 out of a script that was intended to be a hard-R. I think we all knew this would be the final result, but it is disheartening none the less. So, instead of just releasing a worthwhile 115 minute R-rated movie, they chop the film up to 92 minutes, steal that PG-13 and hope for the best.

Maybe the 92 minute cut is very good. Poland and I have been in relative agreement for most of the summer (loved Speed Racer, liked Indy 4, disliked Iron Man, hated Incredible Hulk), and the promise of worthwhile plot twists that can't be revealed has peaked my interest.

But, just like The Incredible Hulk, we're asked to fork over a ticket price for a movie where it's all but advertised that we're getting an appetizer for the super-duper uncut, unrated, director's cut in November on DVD or BluRay.

This is different from a comedy that slaps a few minutes back into the DVD release and calls it' unrated'. That's cheap, but it's fair. It's still the same movie. But this, where it's obvious that the film we're seeing is not the film as it was intended, well that's the kind of thing that makes me pay $6 on a Friday morning before work instead of an evening ticket price. Basically, we're paying for Hancock: The Compromise Cut.

PS - Final weekend numbers - not much to comment on here.

The list...

The only real news is that Incredible Hulk kept its drop to a 'mere' 61% and that The Happening kept its almost record-breaking plunge to a 'mere' 65%. Everything else was whatever I said on Friday, times three.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Review: Wanted (2008)

110 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality.

by Scott Mendelson

During Tim Burton’s biopic, Ed Wood, Johnny Depp places a phone call to a financier who has just screened Wood’s first major motion picture. “Really,” Wood inquires, “worst movie you’ve ever seen? Oh… well, the next one will be better!” Timur Bekmambetov previously directed Nightwatch, which is one of the worst films of the last five years. Intended as a Russian version of the sci-fi punk genre popularized in The Matrix, Blade, or The Terminator, it was an incomprehensible mess of ‘cool’ that I called “the worst thing to happen to Russia since the North Ossetia school massacre of September 2004.” Having missed the sequel, Day Watch, I was morbidly curious about what this visual dry-heave and narrative wet-fart would do with a major American action picture. Well, at least this film was comprehensible. So that’s progress. I guess.

Paraphrasing a friend of mine as we exited the theater, Wanted is a movie so shamelessly derivative of so many other movies that it ought to have a work-cited page at the start of the closing credits. It steals and copies and dumbs down countless action classics of the last twenty-five years. It swipes from, among many others, The Matrix, Fight Club, The Terminator, and Ronin, libeling each and every one of them by their inclusion. It has the sensibility of an over stimulated eight-year old boy who still fears the unexplained phenomenon known as girls. Wanted is the most willfully stupid and condescending action films in years.

The ‘plot’: Take The Matrix. Substitute James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman for Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne. Ok, now substitute ‘Wesley, Fox, and Sloane’ for Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. Now switch out ‘Fraternity’ for ‘rebellion’ and switch out ‘war against the machines’ and ‘great hope’ and toss in ‘master assassin’ and ‘quest to kill various targets that allegedly threaten society’. That was easy. While The Matrix and Fight Club was occasionally subtle and always smart in dealing with the generational angst of males growing up without any real manly purpose in a slightly more feminized world (gross simplification, my apologies), Wanted is literally filled end-to-end with over-the-top and on-the-nose voiceover from McAvoy in which every plot point is explained, every emotional beat is repeated thrice, and every character choice is explained and diagrammed for audience consumption. Seriously, this narration is worse than Blade Runner and worse than Sin City. This is literally the worst voice over I have ever heard in any movie… ever.

McAvoy is hilariously miscast as Wesley Gibson. While is adequate as the put-upon loser in the opening acts (even there, he talks and whines constantly during the action scenes), he is ridiculously unconvincing once he allegedly becomes the master assassin who will prove the savior of ‘The Fraternity’. For most of the picture, Wesley Gibson inexplicably is obsessed with avenging the murder of his father, despite the fact that daddy abandoned him when he was seven-days old. At all times, McAvoy resembles your whiny little brother and really, who wants to see their whiny little brother become an expert killer in a super-secret society? Much of the movie’s advertising campaign has focused on the appeal of Angelina Jolie playing a vixin-ish assassin who engages in various forms of action set-pieces. But don’t be fooled. Jolie’s Fox gets one major action scene at the beginning of the film, but, quickly becomes eye-candy background scenery. The rest of the action either doesn’t involve Fox or has her passively observing the manly work of killing.

For Timur Bekmambetov, women are scary devious creatures who should not be trusted. Wesley’s current girlfriend is an abusive, trashy slut who sleeps around with his best friend. Wesley’s boss is a boorish and vile woman, both because she is in a position of power and because she is grossly overweight. Even the seemingly super-woman Fox eventually finds herself regulated to being the token female. The much-buzzed about action has no sense of physics or suspense. Morgan Freeman has but a few lines of notable dialogue and not a single action scene. The film is quite bloody and violent, but there is no weight or consequence to the violence. There is literally a scene where Wesley’s reckless and vengeful actions single-handedly cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent bystanders (this carnage caused by an allegedly covert and top-secret society goes unmentioned and unnoticed).

We have horribly stupid writing, astonishingly insulting expositional voice over, mediocre acting, wasted talent, head-slappingly stupid action, and a sensibility that caters to pre-adolescent boys who still fear cooties. Yep, Wanted is the best film that Timur Bekmambetov has yet made. Good for him. Really.

Grade: D

George Carlin - 1937-2008

“Scratch any cynic, and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

The New York Times obituary does a far better job of summing up his life and groundbreaking work than I ever could. If Lenny Bruce was the Jesus of comedy (martyred for exposing our societal sins using stand-up comedy, dying so that others could follow in his footsteps without fear), then George Carlin was surely one of his lead apostles. Carlin was the last of the holy trinity of stand-up comedy (Bruce, Carlin, and Richard Pryor). He will be missed. He was 71.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

Mamma Mia!
105 minutes
rated PG-13 (for some sex-related comments)

by Scott Mendelson

Mamma Mia! is an unapologetically goofy musical, wearing its over-the-top absurdity as a badge of honor. Its plot is paper-thin and only a few characters have any real depth, but it is a great performance piece. It is also refreshing in that it is the rare screen musical, like Sweeney Todd, whose original stage source material isn’t specifically about performing. There are no shows to put on, no sock-hop TV shows to try out for, no Motown groups to reunite, and no great songs to write before death. And, like Hairspray and Sweeney Todd, there are no gimmicks to disguise its musical numbers. There are no ‘oh, they’re really all on stage right now’ or ‘oh, it’s all just in Roxie’s imagination’. This is a pleasantly simple domestic comedy where the characters occasionally burst out into song. And, since the story takes place on a small Greek island, they are often accompanied by a literal Greek chorus. And, when everyone is singing and everyone is dancing, Mamma Mia! literally rocks, and rocks hard.

The plot: Sophie is getting married tomorrow. Sophie desperately wants to be walked down the aisle by her real father. After reading her mother’s diary, she’s narrowed it down to three men who romanced Donna right around the time she was conceived. And since she isn’t sure which of the three it is, she’s decided to invite all three. Hilarity, drama, and outlandish musical melodrama inevitably ensues.
As the fans of this long-running and beloved stage show already know, all of the songs performed are actually existing pop-hits from the 1970s Swedish group, ABBA. Amazingly, these disparate songs (‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘SOS’, etc) come together to form a coherent and somewhat logical narrative, although the dialogue scenes do most of the heavy-lifting in the plot area.

Not everything works flawlessly, though. Some of the songs just don’t zing (‘Money Money Money’ is a song I just don’t like, be it here or on a ABBA greatest hits CD). Furthermore, the somewhat madcap behavior that likely feels more natural on stage comes off as stagey onscreen (this is most evident in Meryl Streep’s pratfall-ish dancing for the title track). But, for the most part, the film succeeds when and where it needs to and truly finds its emotional footing by the first third. Yes, a few songs are cut from the original show, and several are shortened, but it’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation (it doesn’t gut the entire second act for expediency, like Rent).

The acting is splendid across the board, as expected. Meryl Streep has a blast as Donna, and it’s such a winning, joyful performance that she may end up with an Oscar nod purely by force of habit. All three alleged fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, and Colin Firth) have great fun with the madcap plot and the opportunity to belt a few bars here and there. Brosnan’s singing is a bit shocking in its vocal quality and its sheer go-for-it gusto. It’s not bad (he’s no Gerald Butler) but it takes some getting used to and it may prove to be divisive (I liked it, my wife did not). It doesn’t help that much of his onscreen crooning is filmed in close-up, so his exaggerated mouth movements are all the more apparent. Everyone else (Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Dominic Sky, etc.) is splendidly game.

Special note must be made of the young lady who would be Sophie. After four years of slowly moving up the ranks, with notable supporting work in Mean Girls, Veronica Mars, and Big Love (and TV guest-spots galore), Amanda Seyfried finally graduates to leading-lady status as the bride-to-be. And she’s never been better (or looked lovelier). She is a terrific singer, she gives a completely engaging dramatic performance, and she has real chemistry with her mother, her fiancee, and all three of her would-be fathers. This is a truly star-making performance.
Mamma Mia! just plain works. It’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s family friendly (the PG-13 rating is a joke), and it’ll send you out of the theater tapping your toes and humming your new favorite ABBA song. If you liked the show, or if you like musicals in general, this one will more than fit the bill. It’s not the near masterpiece that Hairspray was, but it’s a smaller, more intimate story that operates on a different emotional level. It’s a more faithful adaptation than Rent, and it’s a plain better movie than Phantom of The Opera, or… shudder, The Producers. In fact, minor quibbles aside, it’s one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer.

grade: B

Friday Numbers - blood flows at the US box office

The List

First off, Get Smart pulls in $13.5 million, setting it up to make about $39 million, which is where everyone more or less pegged it. This is a fine opening for a very-well marketed movie. The cast was filled with demographically targeted actors and every one of them earned their keep. This one should play at moderately healthy levels for the next few weeks. It IS quasi-assembly-line film making, but it's occasionally charming and harmless. I laughed about six times, which is about five more than I expected to.

Kung Fu Panda dropped another 40% with $6.4 million, again seemingly running neck and neck with Cars. Yay for quality cartoons! I shant expect another weekend drop this low next weekend.

Indiana Jones 4 has now surpassed Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 in the day-to-day numbers. Pirates 3 ended up with $309 million, so expect Indy 4 to close out with $315 million.

And that's pretty much all of the good news...

So, Marvel's brilliant strategy to reboot the Hulk franchise continues with expected results. Hulk's second Friday dropped a mammoth 76% five-years ago, ending up with $18 million for a 71% drop for the weekend (the biggest % drop ever for a movie opening above $23 million). So, now with an extra $30 million spent on the new film, and allegedly more positive word of mouth, the second Friday for The Incredible Hulk is... $6.5 million... a drop of 70%. Nice work, morons. Can't imagine why you went bankrupt twelve years ago. Anyway, expect the drop to level off a little and end up with a still disastrous 65% drop. At this rate, the new Hulk will actually be lucky to equal the old Hulk's $132 million. It's called frontloading, and it's changed quite a bit since 2003, people. So, for those who bought Marvel in stock, in late April, I'd say yesterday would have been the day to sell.

Speaking of Hulk's 76% drop being a record for a second weekend for a boffo opener... that record may just fall this weekend. Despite all the attacks in the press over M. Night Shyamalan's alleged ego and what-not, audiences still liked the guy enough to show up in solid numbers ($30 million) for The Happening's opening weekend. I wish I could comment on the film's quality, but I haven't had a chance to see it (my wife wants to see it, so it's harder to schedule around the ten-month old). Although judging by this weekend's numbers, we could probably take Allison and not piss off too many people.

Yes, The Happening's second Friday is... $3.3 million... a drop of... 75%. Holy crap... which is the opinion that almost everyone I've talked to has stated in regards to the film. Anyway, Friday was a bit front loaded, so the weekend should theoretically level off to a slightly less pathetic 70%. On the plus side (grasping at straws, I know), The Happening will end with weekend with $50 million, so it'll easily make back its $60 million budget and is on track to do at least another $60 million overseas. This one will make money, but the damage to Shyamalan's reputation with regular moviegoers (the ones who didn't bother to see Lady In The Water) may require some serious intervention. Even if Avatar: The Last Air-Bender fits the bill, I'm thinking a musical comedy here. Might I suggest that M. Night do the least M. Nighty thing possible and direct the eventual adaptation of Wicked?

But wait, there's more terrible news (or great news, if you believe in justice). The new Darkseid of comedy, Mike Myers, watched his allegedly putrid Love Guru get stomped, starting out with a mere $5.5 million. If this film is in any way front loaded, expect a three-day under $15 million. If this is actually playing like a childrens' film, then it might just make it to $18 million. Might I suggest that Mike Myers consider a co-starring role in M. Night Shyamalan's Wicked?

But wait... there's more!! Adam Sandler fans continue to flee from the overpowering stench of effort and would-be quality. Yes, Don't Mess With The Zohan dropped another 60% from last Friday. That'll teach Sandler to... try!

Yeah, it's nasty out there this weekend. But don't fret moviegoers, because it's all heavy hitters from here on in. For the next month, we have Wall-E, Wanted, Hancock, Hellboy II, The Dark Knight (better not stink), Mama Mia (doesn't stink), and X-Files 2. I'll update with the final numbers on Monday night.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dark Knight IMAX tickets now on sale...

For those who want to plan early, buy your tickets here. Yes, there is a Thursday midnight screening. Not sure what my plans are, I might just wait till Friday night so I can see it with my wife (who will be quite sad if Cillian Murphy is barely in it). AMC will put advanced tix on sale on July 1st so expect Arclight to start then if not next weekend.

Scott Mendelson

Weekend Box Office Bingo...

I'll make this quick..

Get Smart - $38 million (or a little more than Evan Almighty, but at a third of the budget)
The Incredible Hulk - $25 million
Kung Ku Panda - $21 million
The Love Guru - $18 million
The Happening - $13 million

I'll update tomorrow once the trustworthy sources (ie - not Finke or Fantasy Moguls) report their numbers.

Scott Mendelson

The Love Guru critical blurb award goes to...

“The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again. -- AO Scott New York Times.

I guess that means that Mike Myers is the Darkseid of Film Comedy? But then, if he is Darkseid, who is Superman?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iron Man hits $300 million...

I may be that one guy, along with David Poland of Movie City News, who didn't like the movie, but congratulations are still in order.

Iron Man has crossed the $300 million mark in 45 days (six days ahead of Finding Nemo and one day behind Titanic), and it will almost certainly be one of the top-three grossing films of the summer. But even if Indiana Jones eventually out-grosses it in the long run (still likely), or even if one of the three remaining would-be titans (Wall-E, Hancock, The Dark Knight) challenges it for the crown, Iron Man is an unqualified success story. It hit every mark - great reviews, a terrific opening weekend, solid holds from week to week, and fantastic word of mouth.

The first film from Marvel Studios was merely supposed to be the summer curtain raiser, the prelude to Indiana Jones 4 and The Dark Knight. But, like many curtain raisers before it, it has eclipsed the mid-May monster that was supposed to rule the summer, becoming the summer's most popular film, even if it might not quite be the highest grossing one. Just as X-Men 2 stole the thunder from The Matrix Reloaded, and just as Gladiator was the more popular film than Mission: Impossible 2, Tony Stark's maiden voyage stole much of the proverbial wind from the far-more anticipated Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Both films are liked and both films will be massive successes, but Iron Man will be the one that early summer 2008 will be defined by.

So hats off to Robert Downey Jr, Jon Favreau, and the rest of the gang. Here's hoping that I like the sequel as much as everyone else likes the original.

Scott Mendelson

Love Guru - every bit as bad as it looks?

Well, the reviews for The Love Guru are rolling in... So far, it's a whopping 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. And the vitriol leveled in said reviews is astounding. Frankly, I haven't read this amount of anger and bitterness since... well, since The Cat In The Hat back in 2003. My favorite blurb from that stinker (and one of my favorite review blurbs ever):

"They might as well have skipped the hassle of securing licensing rights and simply called this mess Mike Myers: Asshole in Fur." -- Gregory Weinkauf, Dallas Observer

There aren't any such gems yet, but it'll be worth checking out over the weekend (the blurbs, not the movie). My friend Randy Shaffer of DVDFuture attended a screening the other night in Ohio, and apparently the studio reps spent the running time sitting outside the theater and waiting for it to end. Anyway, he saw the movie, so I don't have to.

This could very well be the end of Mike Myers as a comic leading man. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, he has no goodwill or capital left in the live-action realm. He literally has not made a quality live-action comedy since the first (and still fantastic) Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery back in May of 1997.

Some will say that Myers is no longer hip or cool as the comedy realm has been taken over by Judd Apatow and Will Farrell and their respective troops, but that's just absurd. Myers would have been fine had he made actual funny product. Austin Powers 2 was lousy, Austin Powers 3 was terrible, and The Cat And The Hat was horrifying. And apparently, so too is The Love Guru. No, in this case, Myers has only himself to blame and it will be interesting to see what he does afterward. Here's hoping that this once truly imaginative funny-man will regain the hunger that once fueled him.

Scott Mendelson


Related Posts with Thumbnails