Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anthing Chris Nolan can do, Michael Bay can do better?

In the realm of not-very surprising news, Michael Bay has announced his intention to shoot several scenes for Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen in IMAX film. For some reason, I didn't mention this possibility in my Iron Man 2 IMAX 3D article earlier this month, but the rock-sock-em robots sequel did seem the next likely tent pole film to go this route. And frankly, Transformers 2 could be even more tailor-made for this process than The Dark Knight. Even as someone who hated Transformers and loved The Dark Knight, I must concede that the technical aspects of Transformers were beyond compare. The robots were basically supporting characters in their own movie, and there wasn't nearly enough robot action to balance out the campy, cliched character arcs and tone-deaf comedy, but the rare out-and-out robot smackdowns were truly impressive. This is the exact opposite case of The Dark Knight. Does anyone really have a favorite action sequence in that film? Did anyone come out of the theater blathering about 'that one scene where Batman went to Hong Kong, jumped off a building, punched out five guys, and escaped on a zip line'?

People loved the story, loved the characters, and loved the acting. But the choppy actions scenes, while less Paul Greengrass-y than Batman Begins, were no one's highlight. And, truthfully, they were rendered even harder to follow on a giant IMAX screen (Nolan probably sensed this, as he had Morgan Freeman basically narrate the climactic construction site brawl). Actually, has any Batman film ever contained a truly stunning action sequence? Transformers, on the other hand, is all about empty spectacle, so the giant screen format will be a huge bonus. Frankly, I'm surprised that Bay isn't going for 3D this time to boot. I'd imagine that the CGI robotics would be much easier to convert to 3D than the practical car chases and explosions of The Dark Knight (I'll let someone else discuss the added incentive for the core audience seeing Megan Fox in 3D). Furthermore, Paramount's main summer competition, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, has already announced that its climax will be in 3D yet again.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the two biggest movies of the summer will split IMAX screens, as they will open less than a month apart. If Paramount really wants long-term playability, then maybe they ought to consider moving up the release date. I'd imagine that Transformers 2 would threaten the three-day opening weekend record no matter when in summer it opened, so maybe an early June berth might be in order. This does bring up an interesting problem. As more and more event films decide to go the IMAX route (and make no mistake, Nolan has opened the floodgates), how will the limited number of IMAX screens deal with competing product when this because the norm for tent pole films?

Scott Mendelson

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sex and the City (the movie) and the difference between male and female escapism.

I would love to get on a high horse and proclaim that Sex And The City: The Movie is a terrific movie and that the critics who hated it were misogynist pigs. Some of them may be, but it's still a mediocre movie. The first hour is pretty dreadful, a peon to crass consumerism and shallowness that's especially icky during a time of prolonged economic suffering. I can't speak for the show, but the movie contains not a single homeless person or working stiff. Once the emotional plot comes fully center, the film slightly improves. But the writing just isn't as sharp as the best episodes of the series (I've seen a few, my wife's seen a bunch) and the characters feel thinner. The film is 151 minutes long, but there is less plot than The X-Files: I Want To Believe. But, at its core, it suffers from the same problem as many romantic dramas and comedies. Without going into spoilers, the film's plot catalyst never would have occurred if the main characters just talked to each other like adults for three minutes. Furthermore, the conflict could have been resolved right on the spot with another thirty-seconds of straight communication, explaining how last minute jitters and a child's mistake led to disaster (sorry for the vagueness, no reason to spoil something that occurs an hour into the movie). So the film suffers due to the idiot plot, as do many other movies. And the romantic partners refuse to talk to each other like adults, but that seems to be the case for most romantic comedies (and most relationships in the entertainment world to boot). That doesn't explain the outcry of outrage that occurred following the opening day and opening weekend.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Chocolate-magnate Wonka arrested for murder!

Chocolate-magnate Wonka arrested for murder
Willam Wonka to face charges after four children, one adult die in chocolate-factory massacre.

by Scott Mendelson

World-renowned candy-bar maker and multi-trillionaire William J. Wonka was arrested yesterday evening after four young children perished while touring Wonka’s top-secret chocolate factory.

Authorities are still trying to piece together the details of the gruesome affair but so far there are confirmed reports of five fatalities. The dead children, Augustus Gloup, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Veruca Salt, are reported to be the young winners in the worldwide Golden Ticket contest, which awarded an exclusive tour of William Wonka’s base of operations to five lucky children who discovered golden tickets hidden in Wonka chocolate bars. One adult, Mr. Salt, is also presumed dead. A fifth winner, Charles Bucket, is said to be alive and unharmed.

“It would seem,” stated Chief Steven Helemson, “that Mr. Wonka lured these innocent children into his factory with a promise of a tour and a life-time supply of chocolate, than viciously murdered them in various bizarre and unspeakable methods.” The police believe that the deaths were in fact premeditated, as the various transportation vehicles seemed to actually decrease in seat space as the tour went on, indicating that Wonka planned on progressively thinning the herd.

The mother of Augustus Gloup, one of the slain, has stated that she herself witnessed her son’s tragic drowning in a raging river of chocolate.

“I asked Mr. Wonka to stop my son from heading into the marshmallow room. But, Wonka insisted that he was instead heading for the fudge room. I then replied that he was in fact a ‘terrible man’, to which he simply laughed.” Gloup’s gooey carcass was found floating along the river after police arrived.

Further examination of the carnage unearthed a giant puddle of blueberry goo, mixed in with brain matter, bones, and various organs, which is believed to be the remains of Violet Beauregarde. According to witnesses, Ms. Beauregarde was tricked into eating a poisonous gum-substance, which caused her to turn into a giant blueberry and eventually explode.

A third victim, Michael Teavee, was alleged to have been shrunk to the size of an action figure and then sucked into a TV set, where he is likely being constantly tortured and defiled by the “TV people” who are upset about the factory being buried on an ancient Indian burial site.

“They moved the headstones,” claimed an employee at the factory, one of several dozen ‘Oompa Loompas’, “but they didn’t move the bodies.” Oompa Loompas are tiny, orange-faced midget creatures that often talk in rhyme that may or may not be Wonka’s slaves. Most expressed sympathy with their master.

“Oompa Loompa doompadee doo,” exclaimed one distraught Loompa. “I’ve got another puzzle for you. Ommpa Loompa doompadee doo, if you’re wise you’ll listen to me.” The Loompa then proceeded to spew rhyming profanities (which are unsuitable for print) and claim that there was no life they knew that was not completely expendable in their quest to build a perfect chocolate factory. They threatened various authorities with acts of violence that were horrific beyond any world of pure imagination and thus also unsuitable for print.

The fate of the final casualty remains sketchy, with reports claiming that Veruca Salt and her father may have both plummeted to their deaths after being pushed down a chute designated for golden eggs. Although no bodies have been found, all accounts do report, however, that she was a “very bad egg.”

“Mr. Wonka is a sick, diseased maniac,” claimed an un-named executive of the rival candy corporation, Slugworth. “The golden tickets promised that ‘In your wildest dreams you could not imagine the marvelous surprises that await you’. Instead, the tickets brought a violent, surreal, ironic demise to four out of five of these innocent children.”

Wonka has claimed that each of the victims in fact caused their own horrible fates by breaking the rules and thus bear complete responsibility. According to the jailed Wonka, the contracts that were signed dictated that any violation of the rules and regulations ‘and et cetera, et cetera... Fax mentis incendium gloria cultum, et cetera, et cetera... Memo bis punitor delicatum’ would result in immediate execution.

“It’s all there in black and white, clear as crystal,” Wonka has claimed. “You can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy: ‘you mess with my factory, I will totally f^&%ing kill you!”

Wow... a Spirit trailer that's actually comprehensible!

It took them three tries (and the teaser made people think it was a Dick Tracy sequel), but here is a trailer for The Spirit that actually has a semblance of plot and character, as opposed to just random hot women tossing off their best 'come-hither' lines. Sam Jackson is in geek heaven and the trailer finally acknowledges that Frank Miller didn't actually create The Spirit (Will Eisner did). Am I the only one amused that this is the second time in a less than two years, after Ghost Rider, that Eva Mendes has played the former childhood sweatheart of our tormented hero, who comes back at just the wrong time? It's an improvement, but considering how thin and junky I found Sin City to be, I'm not terribly optimistic.

The original teaser:

The hot-to-trot first trailer:

SNL does Palin/Couric and the Debates, plus MadTV does a Palin townhall

Whatever will the Saturday night sketch shows do once the election ends?

SNL - Palin/Couric sketch:

SNL - Obama/McCain sketch:

Mad TV - Palin Town Hall sketch:

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman has died of cancer at 83

Condolences to friends and family. If there is a need to update, I will do so as more comes in. Here is the article.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pointless Pet Peeve Of The Day - Crappy cover art for Blu Ray and 2-disc DVDs

In the realm of things that really don't matter, I've noticed an obnoxious trend of late in the home video market.

In the olden days of standard and special edition DVDs, the pattern was simple. For the one-disc bare bones disc, you often had substandard cover art meant to appeal to mass audiences, usually emphasizing either generic elements of the story or a main set piece that people remember enjoying in theaters.

But for the two-disc collector's set, and the BluRay, you got a snazzy replication of the actual poster from the movie itself.

Or, worst case scenario, you got the same image with a token mention that one of them is a two-disc collector's set.

But, of late, the studios seem to be going the opposite route. Let's look at four recent summer releases. The one-disc set for Iron Man (streets next Tuesday) feature the poster art, which highlights the entire cast.
However, for the two-disc set and BluRay, we have simply a stylized, artless picture of the Iron Man suit, something that resembles the start menu for a computer game. If I'm paying extra for the more expensive version, I'd also like the original poster art to go with it.

Let's have a look at the just released art for the not nearly as bad as you've heard Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which Warner Bros will street in 1-disc, 2-disc, and Blu Ray versions in November. The standard one-disc set features the poster art, with the main cast in a moody, dimly lit battle-ready pose, suggesting drama, darkness, and turmoil. It's a decent enough poster.

Yet, for the two-disc and Blu Ray, we get a big brightly lit picture of just Anakin Skywalker, looking like he was posing for Tiger Beat. This is pretty terrible art regardless, but why punish consumers who opt for the more expensive option?

Next up is Get Smart, Warner again, which streets on December 4th in 1-disc, 2-disc, and BluRay versions (all three promising 62% more laughs - so that's 4 more laughs?). As you'll notice, the one-disc set gives us profiles of all four of the main stars, which is appropriate since Get Smart was a true ensemble piece that coasted along on the talent and goodwill of its cast.

Yet the 2-disc and Blu Ray version crops out Alan Arkin and Dwayne Johnson, leaving us with only Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. Not a huge deal, but again it seems a case where the more expensive version should have included the original poster art.

Finally, and this is the one that prompted me to write this, we have the covers for Sony's Hancock, which will street in November on 1 d... you get the idea. Anyway, the one-disc theatrical cut contains the poster art.

Yet the two-disc and BluRay extended edition displays $25 photo shopping that not only is ugly and displeasing to look at, but actually constitutes a mild spoiler. I gave Sony major props last summer for actually running an ad campaign for Hancock that didn't reveal the whole movie in the trailers and TV spots, so it's a shame that they had to go and hint at a major scene in the second act of the picture. And besides, if you're going to give Charlize Theron billing above the title, you damn well oughta give the same courtesy to Jason Batemen, who basically stole the film with a warm, subtle, empathetic comic performance.

On the plus side, the just released UK cover art for The Dark Knight seems to be on the right track. The two-disc and Blu Ray sets will include the original poster art, plus the option for covers with Batman or The Joker (the exterior sleeve has Batman, while the case itself has the Joker poster). Of course, both Nolan Batman pictures had so many posters that they could easily do a dozen versions of each film and have a different theatrical one-sheet for each.

Again, not the end of the world, but it doesn't make sense that the studios are making a habit of giving lesser quality presentations to the versions of their discs that the more discerning consumer is likely to purchase. And frankly, I'm tired of having to contend with ugly artwork when I fork over money for the 'more special' version of a given DVD or Blu Ray.

Scott Mendelson

Update - darn it. Warner Bros. just released the US cover art for The Dark Knight, and it's exactly the kind of thing I was complaining about. The single disc version gets the official poster art. Meanwhile, the two-disc set gets the alternate, ugly poster art highlighting the 'way-cool' Bat-Pod. Aside from the fact that Batman is barely visible in the poster, it is easily the ugliest of the many posters, primarily because the center of attention is a giant wheel. How unfortunate.

Craig Ferguson once again sums it up best (You don't suspend democracy!)

"Not for 9/11, not for Pearl Harbor, not for the Nazis..."

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Valkyrie trailer debuts... now.

Here is the new trailer for Valkyrie, as promised. It's a well-cut piece, presented as a ticking clock of doom, and it gives the other major cast members (Kenneth Branagh, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson) their close up as well as Cruise. Of course, the overtly 'exciting scenes' of people quickly walking and randomly pointing guns seems to imply that it's far more of a cat and mouse thriller than an out-and-out action piece. So far, so good.

Oh, and here is a much older one (apparently November) that is equally compelling, this one highlighting the entire cast even more than the new trailer.

Scott Mendelson

Valkyrie poster debuts... now.

The trailer for Valkyrie goes online on Yahoo at 9:00pm tonight. Above is the final one-sheet. This is what I get for writing something nice about Valkyrie in my MPAA post yesterday. On a related note, I'm sure the Dark Knight Blu Ray will be extra swell and Quantum Of Solace will be the best Bond movie ever! In all seriousness, it's a pretty cool poster. It's surprisingly artsy, and I like the credits being put in the box on the left, although the partial swastika seems to resemble a giant number 1 or 7.

I always appreciate posters that show off the whole cast, not just the top-lined star (far too many Tom Cruise posters are just his giant face or his upper body in forward motion). It seems that MGM/UA is trying to sell this as a team movie, in the vein of (ah-ha!) The Usual Suspects and X-Men. If you'll notice, Tom Cruise's arms hanging wide pose is similar to Wolverine in several X-Men: The Last Stand posters (yes, it's ironic that they are using the marketing campaign from the X-Men picture that Bryan Singer did not direct). And, pleasant coincidence, there are six characters pictured, same as the six main good guys in the first X-Men (Xavier, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Storm, and Rogue). Whether this is an attempt to frame this film as a team caper picture, or whether UA is trying to downplay Tom Cruise for PR reasons, it's an effective poster none the less.

Scott Mendelson

Quantum Of Solace - longer to spell than to watch?

This came out a couple days ago, but I couldn't find any respectable places where this had been confirmed. Now it's widespread enough that I feel comfortable commenting on it.

Quantum Of Solace will not feature two trademarked James Bond lines ('shaken, not stirred', and 'Bond... James Bond'), with director Marc Forrester basically giving up on putting them in without it feeling disjointed and unnatural. Good for him. Yes, they are classic lines, but also the kind of obvious references never fail to pull you out of the movie. And, for the record, could they avoid having someone archly say 'quantum of solace' in the middle of the movie? Having characters intentionally utter the title of the movie is a pet peave of mine ('It's a SCREAM, baby!")*, and Bond films are the biggest offenders.

More surprising is the apparent running time of 106 minutes. That's right, Quantum Of Solace may be the shortest James Bond film ever, possibly by a wide margin. A brief history: The first three James Bond films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger) were about 111 minutes long. Then, starting with Thunderball in 1965, the James Bond series broke the two-hour barrier and never looked back. The only other film to be under two hours in between 1965 and 2008 is Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, which ran 119 minutes. And the last film, Casino Royale, ran a record 144 minutes. Now that was technically four minutes longer than On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1967, but of course end credits were much shorter back in the day.

That brings us to the next question. Does that 106 minutes include ending credits? If not, then Quantum Of Solace will likely run about 115 minutes, which would simply make it on par with Tomorrow Never Dies and the earliest Connery Bonds and thus not break the record for the shortest 007 adventure. However, if that includes 7-10 minutes of credits, we could see a James Bond film that has about 96 minutes of actual content. Factor that with reports that the film will have a fifteen-minute pre-credits sequence, plus the usual three to five-minute theme song, and you have a movie that's almost 25% over by the time the credits are over.

Obviously running time doesn't designate a good movie. As Gene Siskel said, no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short. But considering the sheer amount of (admittedly exciting) action set pieces on display in the two trailers, there is a fear from this writer that the film may become something akin to The Bourne Ultimatum - all action, no story. Pure speculation at this point, but I'll feel better when the film starts screening (next month?) and we find out if there is any character development and/or plot to this second Daniel Craig 007 picture.

I'm also concerned because it seems that, at least since Roger Moore left, that we've had a situation where we've had a Bond film trade off of sorts. The Living Daylights was complicated and real-world messy, while Licence To Kill was simple and somewhat simpleminded (I love both Dalton pictures, but the former has aged better than the latter). Furthermore, Goldeneye was complicated and story-rich, while Tomorrow Never Dies was simple and easy to follow (Brosnan was quoted in Entertainment Weekly as saying that Goldeneye was too much work for audiences). The same thing with The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day. The former was rich with character development and multilayered plotting, the latter resembled a bad cartoon by the second act.

As long as we're playing the even/odds game, let's acknowledge that Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day both suffer from the same major flaw. They both spend the first hour telling a character driven Bond story dealing with an unexplored part of Bond (What happens what an old flame comes back? What happens when Bond gets captured and can't be trusted?) In both films, these stories are tossed overboard in the second hour as Bond teams up with a secret agent from another country to blow up the bad guys without a care in the world (for all of Halle Berry's constant libels about how Jinx was the first Bond girl to do anything ever, she was a rewritten version of Michelle Yeoh's character from TND). Bits and pieces from the second trailer have me worried that this particular 'every other film' pattern may continue.

I've said many times that I feel director Martin Campbell was the unsung hero of Casino Royale, and that the somewhat on-the-nose dialogue by Paul Haggis was the weak point. Giving that Campbell passed and Haggis stuck around, I'm concerned that Campbell's penchant for visually decipherable action and genuine character development may have been lost as well.

Now that I've engaged in rampant fact less, conjecture for a few paragraphs, let me be optimistic for a moment. The trailers do look terrifically engaging. I adored Marc Forrester's Stranger Than Fiction, and I've liked all of Haggis's other recent work, so don't read this as bashing the replacement director and the script doctor. I'll gladly eat my words if the film ends up being closer to The Living Daylights than Die Another Day, but for now I'm officially in the category of 'trust, but verify'.

Scott Mendelson

* Ironically, the original working title for Scream was in fact 'Scary Movie'. Needless to say, that would have been even more annoying as the characters do make a point to overtly say 'scary movie' about two dozen times in the course of the picture.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Interesting news on the MPAA ratings front...

Box Office Mojo sends out a weekly update of what films have received what ratings from the MPAA. There are several interesting tidbits this week.

W, Oliver Stone's allegedly comic biopic of George W. Bush (mainly dealing with his life pre-presidential run), has been awarded a surprising PG-13 (for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images). I presume this means that we won't see Bush allegedly using cocaine in his youth. On the other hand, this is Oliver Stone's second PG-13 movie in a row, and his second PG-13 movie ever, following the terrible World Trade Center.

Stone used to specialize in hard-R adult entertainment, so this is an interesting development. If you can't count on Die Hard, The Terminator, and Oliver Stone dramas for R-rated entertainment value, who can you count on? If Lionsgate makes good on its alleged intent to make Punisher: War Zone into a PG-13 picture, they will have the two most inappropriate PG-13 movies of the year. Are they really hoping that teenagers are going to see this one? Perhaps we'll all be treated to the scene of Richard Dreyfuss's Dick Cheney telling Sen. Patrick J. Leahy to 'go frick himself'.

Quantum Of Solace has received the expected PG-13 for the expected helpful helpings of 'intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content.' There is some 007 news, but that will be dealt with in my next 'short' post.

Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise-starring and Brian Singer-directed adventure has been rated PG-13 for (violence and brief strong language). The 'Nazis who plot to kill Hitler' thriller is obviously going for broke as a mainstream action adventure title. Fair or not, this somewhat troubled production will make or break United Artists and Tom Cruise's future as an aging star. Still, troubles aside, Tom Cruise hasn't made a completely bad movie since Days Of Thunder in 1990. And, Superman Returns aside, Bryan Singer has a pretty solid track record (Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil, and the first two X-Men pictures). There's no real reason to presume that this won't be a dramatically compelling action thriller.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Burn After Reading (2008)

Burn After Reading
095 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Burn After Reading is so lightweight, so airy and devoid of potency, that is almost an apology of sorts for the deadly serious myth making that was No Country For Old Men. This is not unprecedented for the Joel and Ethan Coen. Back in 1998, they followed up the award-winning and acclaimed Fargo, a black comedy that none the less had dramatic potency, with the wacky comedy The Big Lebowski. Now there is nothing wrong with being light and fancy free, but the almost intentional irrelevance of this new picture renders it a success only as an acting treat.

The chief pleasure in that area is John Malkovich, who has a blast hamming it up as a disgruntled former CIA agent who has misplaced a CD containing his memoirs (yes, that CD is the McGuffin). Malkovich only does comedy every so often (Being John Malkovich, Johnny English, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy), so it's always a treat when he plays for laughs. His resentful, bitchy, and overtly ornery would-be spy dominates the first third of the picture and it's the main reason why the film's first act is its strongest.

Also having fun is Brad Pitt, who basically playing a work-a-day idiot and looking about twenty-years younger in the process (some of that Benjamin Button makeup still lingering?). George Clooney shows up here and there, as do Tilda Swinton, J.K. Simmons, and Richard Jenkins. They all seem to consider this a relaxing vacation with good friends.

If the film has an emotional beat, it belongs to Francis McDormand. As an employee of a health club who is desperate to get extensive plastic surgery, she sees the discovery of said disc as a way to get respect and love, completely oblivious to the fact that her boss (a mournful Jenkins) would happily give her both. Whether or not a character who looks like McDormand thinks so little of her appearance is intended as social commentary is irrelevant. She is the only character who moves beyond the level of low-key cartoon.

Still, even if the plot is barely there, the pacing is slow, and the climax attempts meaning that is unearned, the film works as ninety-minutes spent with terrific actors all having fun sending up their images. It is one of the more undisciplined films in the Coen Brothers archive (Fargo aside, they work best when they restrain themselves or are adapting a previous movie or a novel), but it is still intelligent and witty and an enjoyable time at the movies.

Grade: B-

Monday, September 22, 2008

Favorite/Best films of the 1990s

Keep in mind, these are favorites, not necessarily best, in general order of release year.

Dick Tracy - Still one of the darkest and saddest comic book films ever made - Pacino and especially Madonna both do some of their best work and everyone else is in top form. Behind the colors and gee-whiz violence, this is a sad, mournful character study of several people (Tracy, Breathless, Big Boy, 88 Keys) stuck in places they don't want to be, excelling in roles they have little interest in playing, with no plausible way to get out.

Awakenings - I haven't seen it in close to fifteen-years, but I loved it back when it was new. A sorrowful examination of people waking from decades of a walking nightmare. One of Robin Williams' very best performances (along with his guest spot on the 'Bop Gun' episode of Homicide: Life On The Street back in 1994).

Dances With Wolves - It was a giant smash and a multi-Oscar winner, yet now it is genuinely underrated. Forgive Costner for some of the crap that came after and forgive him for defeating Scorsese and Goodfellas. All that aside, this is a beautiful western epic that was a true groundbreaker in its treatment of native americans. And another great Costner-directed western, 2003's Open Range, easily makes up for The Postman.

Goodfellas - Duh.

The Silence Of The Lambs - still holds up as the definitive adult dark fairy tale for our age. Hopkins' work is cliche by now, but it still works because his screen time is limited (only twenty-seven minutes). The heart of this film still belongs to Jodie Foster, and her relationship with Scott Glenn, and the blunt realism of Ted Levine are what makes this fable sing. Still an incredibly rich, character-driven thriller that is a true classic.

JFK - A dazzling, hyper kinetic examination of the fragile nature of truth itself, it passes the non-fiction test that so many conventional biopics fails. It is so completely involving and entertaining that it would be a near-masterpiece even if it were complete fiction (which it may be).

Malcolm X - Spike Lee's best film, Denzel Washington's finest moment, and the best biopic of all time. Period.

Batman Returns - Despite heavy competition, still the best Batman film of all time. I love Batman and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but this is Batman re imagined as a grim fairy tale, while staying true to the core concepts of the Batman universe. The Nolan Batman films may be more faithful to the character and plot beats, and Tim Burton's original Batman may be more faithful to the tone and spirit, but Batman Returns is the only Batman film that qualifies as haunting.

Dead Alive/Brain Dead - the goriest film ever made and the finest horror comedy I've ever seen.

Schindler's List - Take away all of the staggering Holocaust footage and you still have a peerless character study of two opposing figures (Neeson and Feinnes) who eventually represent two sides of a moral spectrum. It was somewhat groundbreaking in its portrayal of a three-dimensional Nazi, both monster and as a man, and it still works as a haunting character study.

In The Line Of Fire - It has aged much better than The Fugitive (Kimble finds his wife's killer in literally two easy steps that any private eye or lawyer should have accomplished). This is one of the best Hitchcock-type thrillers of our time (watch how an audience gasps when Malkovich drops his bullet under the table) and one of my favorite white-knuckle thrillers. Eastwood and Malkovich are in peak form and everything just clicks into place. A near perfect example of its genre.

Pulp Fiction - Still holds up, because it's more concerned with being good and being compelling than it is with being cool. While the rip-offs and cash ins that followed were more concerned about being hip and funny, they all forgot that at heart Pulp Fiction is a drama, a story about three-dimensional characters and the bonds they form or break as they make life-altering decisions.

Speed - One of the best action films of the decade. It still holds up because of the acting and the writing. The chemistry between all four leads (Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, and Jeff Daniels) crackles and the dialogue is a joy to listen to. Oh yes, and the sustained action is exciting and compelling every step of the way.

Hoop Dreams - The film that changed documentary film making, arguably for the better. Easily the best documentary of the 1990s, and one of the finest of all time. Whenever people blather on about how critics don't matter, I point to this one. Would any of you have even heard of this movie if not for Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert?

Ed Wood - This is still Tim Burton's best film and one of the best movies ever made about movies. This was one of his last gasps of truly original filmmaking, before the career-killing Mars Attacks and the career-saving Sleepy Hollow turned him into a revamp/remake machine.

Forrest Gump - no matter your political stripe, I've always taken this as a dark comedy disguised as a heart warmer. It deals both with the concept of America being a place where you can fall into success while the more ambitious and worthy fail, and the idea that the good luck of Forrest Gump rubs off inversely towards everyone he meets, bringing death, destruction and misery to everyone in his path. It's ok to still love this film AND love Pulp Fiction, Tarantino does too.

Babe - Still my all-time favorite live-action family film. I can't wait to show this one to my daughter. If she doesn't like it, that may be grounds for adoption.

Toy Story - Just because part II is one of the best sequels ever doesn't mean the original wasn't a masterpiece. Still one of the best Pixar films, behind only Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles.

Dead Man Walking - Ironically, despite losing four or five times, Susan Sarandon won the Oscar for her very best performance. Arguably the best film ever made about the death penalty. It absolute stands against it, but never shies away from the valid reasons so many approve of it.

Goldeneye - Still my favorite James Bond film. Why, oh why, didn't they bring Martin Campbell back for Quantum Of Solace? It has all of the Bond elements in place, but also with a sympathetic villain, a smattering of real-world history, a ridiculously over-the-top villainous, and a heroine who gives gravity to the proceedings by being genuinely repulsed by the violence she encounters.

Twelve Monkeys - The only time travel movie that actually makes a token amount of sense, and it's emotionally gripping to boot. This may be Terry Gilliam's best film, as it is the only one that mixes his eccentricities in a cocktail that is accessible to audiences and dramatically compelling, without sacrificing any of what makes Gilliam so unique. The finale is a knockout and Bruce Willis is in rare form.

Se7en/Copy Cat - They are both peerless thrillers in their own unique way. One rewrote the book on the genre, launching the careers of David Fincher and Gynneth Paltrow, affirming the stardom of Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey, giving us Morgan Freeman's finest moment. The other was a last gasp of the old way, with Holly Hunter's best performance and delightfully human dialogue for every character.

Fargo - No Country For Old Men was fine and all, but there is only one Fargo. Compared to the somewhat mythical grandeur of No Country, Fargo's folksy ordinariness makes it all the more chilling. And Francis McDormand creates a modern icon in Marge Gunderson, arguably one of the goofiest, friendliest, and warmest police officers in cinema history.

LA Confidential - Come what may, this is probably my favorite film of the decade. It's one of the best film noirs ever made, surely the best in the last thirty-years or so. Every performance crackles, the plot actually makes sense, and the bursts of brutal violence have a sting to them.

Face/Off - Woo's best film period, one of Cage's best performances, and one of the best action films ever written. It's so rich that it works as an emotional drama even without the shootouts.

Titanic - It needs no defense at this point. Either you love it or you don't. The key is that Cameron makes sure that the death of every single person on that ship every bit as tragic as what happens to our leads.

Wag The Dog - Contrary to popular belief, it actually came out a month before the Lewinsky mess broke. If ever a film were to predict the future... One of the last times that Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman actually tried.

The Mask Of Zorro - Martin Campbell strikes again, with my favorite action adventure film of the 1990s, and perhaps my favorite superhero film of all time. Antonio Banderas is terrific, and Anthony Hopkins does better, more alive work here than anything since The Silence Of The Lambs. The stunt work and sword play are grandly staged, exquisitely shot, and coherently edited. The music is sweeping, and the villains are both devious, sympathetic, and surprisingly intelligent (the master plan is genuinely brilliant). I used to show this one to new girlfriends as a litmus test. Knowing this, my wife refused to watch it until after we were married (yes, she liked it, but she still is afraid to watch Almost Famous, which is the only other 'must like' movie). This is one of those movies that I probably enjoy more than anyone else on the planet.

A Simple Plan - Sam Raimi's best film, Billy Bob Thornton's best work, and one of the more nerve-wracking thrillers of the decade.

Dark City - I loved it when I saw it in theaters and time has only improved its sad, mournful power. The director's cut is better, but that's no strike against the original version. Was, is, and always shall be better than The Matrix.

The Sixth Sense - It still holds up as an incredibly moving character study about a troubled son, an overburdened single mother, and the wounded therapist who tries to help them heal. It still works as a slow-build thriller too. Take away the twist, and the climactic conversation between mother and son is still a stunningly effective, emotionally bruising, but ultimately uplifting climax to a terrific film.

Galaxy Quest - The only good live-action Tim Allen film, and the finest satire of the 1990s. Created with absolute love for the science fiction genre, this Star Trek meets Three Amigos farce is far funnier and far smarter than it has any right to be. Alan Rickman cements his return to Hollywood and Sam Rockwell becomes a star as the 'red shirt' who expects death around every corner. Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Enrico Colantoni, and a very young Justin Long are all game. The dining hall sequence has a great pay off, and the deleted scenes on the DVD include one of the best bathroom gags in ages (why it's not in the finished film, I cannot say). Amazingly enough, this comedic spoof of Star Trek is probably the best Star Trek movie ever made. By Grabthar's hammer... by the Sons of Warvan... this one is aging like a fine wine.

Toy Story 2 - One of the finest sequels of all time, and probably the best cartoon ever made. This has the purest distillation of the quintessential Pixar theme - learning that life is only precious because it eventually ends. This one is so stunningly moving and powerful, I almost wish they wouldn't go ahead with their plans for Toy Story 3D. This one leaves our pals in a perfect place - completely willing to accept that they can't control their fate, but completely willing to enjoy the ride... for infinity and beyond!

Other worthies of the decade - Total Recall (Arnold's best film), LA Story (Steve Martin's best film), City Slickers, Dead Again, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Candyman, The Fugitive, Searching For Bobby Fischer, Jurassic Park, Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, Clear and Present Danger, Wes Craven's New Nightare, The Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, Braveheart, The Usual Suspects, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hill, Independence Day (especially the director's cut), Big Night, Contact, Donnie Brasco (Pacino's best performance of the 1990s), The Truman Show, The Siege (another 'predict the future' movie), The Matrix, Election, The Iron Giant, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, Sleepy Hollow, and yes, sorry, Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace (judged evenly, it's as good as A New Hope but it's not nearly as good as The Empire Strikes Back or Revenge of the Sith).

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hannah Montana Movie moved away from Summer (Fox breathes a sigh of relief)

Yet another high-profile date change, this one affecting the beginning of summer 2009. The (sure to be highly anticipated) Hannah Montana Movie has moved from May 1st to April 10th, 2009. I'm not sure why Disney made the move, but this will be a huge relief to Fox, Paramount, and Sony for the month of May.

The Hannah Montana Movie was originally set to kick off the summer on May 1st, head to head with Fox's X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Now you may be thinking that this would have been a similar situation to summer 2003, when X2: X-Men United opened to $85 million and The Lizzie McGuire Movie opened with $17 million. And you'd be wrong.

Call it improved marketing or a coming of age of the Disney Channel audience, but Disney Channel television is bigger than its ever been and Hannah Montana is its queen. Hannah Montana is a monster unlike any of the previous Nickelodeon or Disney starlets of previous generations. Don't believe me? Ask any parent of a young girl about the likelihood of being dragged to this one on opening weekend. Ask any young girl if they'd rather see Hannah Montana or just about any other movie you can name other than Harry Potter 6. Melissa Joan Hart, of Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina The Teenage Witch, once ruefully remarked that had she been a star today, she would have had a movie, a TV show, and a platinum-selling CD to her credit. Miley Cyrus and her rock-star alter-ego are absolutely a crippling force to be reckoned with. This is a character who's last movie , the 3D concert film Best Of Both Worlds, opened last February to $32 million on just 683 screens. Yes, many of those screens charged an extra buck or two for the 3D experience, but that's still a record $45,561 per screen.

Ok, fine, let's say Hannah Montana opens on 4000 screens and we cut that average in half ($22,780 - not even in the top twenty-five per screen averages). That still gives us a $91 million opening weekend. Does anyone think that Wolverine is going to do $91 million on its opening weekend? Maybe, it's possible, if the stench of X-Men 3 and the alleged behind the scenes drama doesn't affect the buzz. How about Star Trek? Angels And Demons? Anything else this summer other than maybe Harry Potter 6 and Transformers 2? Even chopping that per-screen average down by 2/3 gives the Miley Cyrus vehicle $15,000 per screen and a $61 million opening weekend.
So, aside from not wanting to embarrass Fox and Sony, why did Disney move it out of the summer? The only explanation that I can think of is two-fold. First off, they know they can't gross $151 million, so the record for May is out of reach. The April record, Anger Management's $42 million, could theoretically be beaten on opening day (expect massive frontloading of April 10th). The other reason is simpler. If Hannah Montana can live up to even the bottom rung of potential, it'll have a full month to itself to print money before having to deal with the big guns of summer. I suppose it's better to trade being a big fish in a big pond for being the fish who eats and kills all the other fish in a smaller pond.

But make no mistake, this is as much a game changer as Harry Potter's big move. Alas, in the broad sense, Disney loses a chance to prove that yet another female-centric film can cause mega-damage to cash registers in summer just as well as the super heroes and geek properties. While it may be a smart financial move for Disney, it creates the perception that the girl flick isn't tough enough to hack it out against the men. Pity, since it's likely that Hannah Montana would have thrashed Wolverine, Captain Kirk, and John Conner without breaking a sweat.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let's Play Another Silly Game! (Fill In Another Trailer Tagline)

While I fend off writer's block...

Complete this classic film preview quarry:

You know the line:
This summer, Paramount Pictures takes you on an adventure that's beyond your imagination!"

Your turn -
This summer, (fill in the studio) takes you on an adventure that's... (fill in the rest)

Be creative, be funny, be stupid, be genuine, just be original. Have fun.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The best comic book villains in film history...

Just for fun, here is a rundown of the best performances by an actor/actress playing a comic book villain in the short, 30-year history of the modern comic book film. Some will be obvious, some where obvious but were forgotten to time, some are my personal favorites that didn't get the love they deserved. Here we go:

5. Timothy Dalton as Neville Sinclair in The Rocketeer (1991)

The film bombed back in 1991 and it frankly hasn't aged well. There's very little rocket-action to justify the $50 million budget, and only the actors make it watchable (see Terry O'Quinn as the noble Howard Hughes!). But the one timeless ingredient is the deliciously fun work by then-Bond actor Timothy Dalton as the devious Neville Sinclair. While he got a few good notices, he was overshadowed that summer by fellow film-stealing villains Robert Patrick (the T-1000 in Terminator 2) and Alan Rickman (The Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves).

Part swashbuckling hear-throb movie-star, part covert Nazi-spy, all bad ass. An obvious riff on the false rumors of Errol Flynn's alleged association with the Nazi party, Dalton has a blast basically playing a tongue-in-cheek version of his uber-tough James Bond characterization. It's a shame that Dalton couldn't play more heavies, as he certainly was too menacing and roguish to be a stereotypical hero. Whether it's 'accidentally' stabbing his costar during a staged fight scene, or effortlessly stealing 21-year old Jennifer Connolly away from bland hero Billy Campbell, Dalton makes villainy seem like the most romantic job around.

4. Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in Superman (1978)

Gene Hackman was the first modern comic book super villain. Hackman's work was an odd combination of the deranged mad scientist of pre-Crisis Superman, with the eventual post-Crisis Lex Luthor who was a suave narcissistic gentleman with the will to wreak chaos to achieve his glory and respect. You can get away with a lot of ham when you're introduced pushing a federal agent into a moving train. Yes Luthor was hammy and comical, but he was still absolutely homicidal, with a truly creative and logical scheme. Plus he was genuine threat to the Man Of Steel. The conversation that the two of them conduct is still a lovely scene, and the idea of super hero and super villain just talking shop has been used all-too infrequently (see The Shadow for an even better example of this). Come what may, Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor has my favorite super villain line of all time:

Superman: "Is that how a diseased maniac like you gets his kicks, Luthor? By plotting the deaths of innocent people?"

Luthor: "Why no. By causing the deaths of innocent people."

3. Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in Spider-Man (2002)

Say what you will about the Power Rangers outfit, but Willem Dafoe still gives one of the most three-dimensional performances in any comic book adventure to date. Even as Osborn descends into madness as The Green Goblin, the sympathetic and surprisingly good-hearted Norman Osborn stays in our good graces. By maintaining this fully formed character of Norman Osborn for the duration of the film, Dafoe makes everyone step up their game, as well as put the audience in an odd position. Sure we know The Green Goblin is a homicidal lunatic, but we still like Norman Osborn and are moved when his Green Goblin personality conflicts with Osborn's genuine desire to be a good person. He truly anguishes over having to kill Peter Parker, and he genuinely apologizes to his son for not being a better father (he may have ulterior motives, but he means every word of it). And Parker and Osborn's final smack down is still one of the best, most vicious brawls in super hero cinema.

His scene conversing with himself in front of a mirror is astonishing, and his appearance at the Parker's Thanksgiving dinner is priceless. Not only does he manage to flirt with Mary Jane and Aunt May at the same time, but he also calls out Mary Jane for the emotionally insecure train wreck that she is (see Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 for proof). Plus, he's the only character to openly acknowledge that Mary Jane as presented is purely a piece of meat, which is how the film treats her. Norman Osborn may be the villain, but as performed by Willem Dafoe, he is the most honest and most three-dimensional character in the whole Spider-Man series.

2. Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and Health Ledger as The Joker in Batman (1989), Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993), Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker (2002), and The Dark Knight (2008)
Pick your favorite, drag one down to prop one up, I prefer to savor them all. Given the chance to portray the most important villain in comic literature, if not all literature for the last seventy-years, all three actors gave us definitive versions of The Clown Prince Of Crime.

Jack Nicholson broke the mold in Tim Burton's Batman. Some may carp that it was just Jack being Jack in makeup, but we forgot how shocking this performance really was. There had never been a true comic book villain that was this over-the-top in cinema before. The nonstop cackling, the completely random and wholesale slaughter, and the genuinely perverse pathology, this was all new terrain for cinema. While his campier moments recall The Shining or The Witches of Eastwick, his quieter subtler scenes actually resemble the work he did as Eugene O'Neil in Warren Beatty's Reds. Unlike Heath Ledger's deliberate, proselytizing anarchist, Jack Nicholson's Joker just committed mass murder purely for the hell of it.

Mark Hamill's Joker didn't have much of a motive either. While the cartoon's kid-friendly format reined in the character's more sadistic behavior, the actor and the writers found places to insert the diseased mania and homicidal compulsion where they could (it was inferred that The Joker was bumping off people left and right in capers that we weren't privy to). Mark Hamill's Joker was scary because he was genuinely funny, and the kind of guy who you'd enjoy hanging out with until you realized he had poisoned you with Joker venom thirty-minutes ago. Aside from the lack of onscreen bloodshed, this was the most accurate representation of the character to date. When people read a Batman comic book featuring The Joker, it is Hamill's voice they hear in the dialogue bubbles.

But, in Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker, the gloves came off (and then on again due to censorship, then off again in an unrated DVD release... long story). Technically a story of future Bruce Wayne with his young apprentice Batman, it concerned the apparent resurrection of The Joker about forty-years after his apparent demise. But the heart of the film is a ten-minute flashback sequence, Batman's final battle with The Joker, where The Joker launches his final scheme against Batman, a decisive strike intended to shatter Batman in the most personal way possible. Of all the films featuring The Joker, live-action or otherwise, this is the only one where The Joker's actions truly sting and shock and almost shame us for enjoying his murderous antics for all these years.

Ah yes, the new kid on the block. While countless words have been written about Heath Ledger's work, it should be said that he portrays a very specific version of The Joker. His Joker is almost sane, seemingly reasonable in his thinking, however we disagree with his intentions. He is not a wanton mass murderer, but a calculating and cunning killer who attempts to bring about maximum chaos with minimum carnage (note that he does not explicitly kill a single innocent civilian, targeting only cops, criminals, vigilantes, and officers of the court). As I've mentioned elsewhere, his Joker comes closest to the one written by Ed Brubaker, be it Gotham Cental's Soft Targets or The Man Who Laughs. This Joker is a plausible real-world demon, the kind of anarchist who could very well exist in our actual reality. He is not funny, his methods of death are ordinary (no Joker Venom, no acid-squirting flowers) and he doesn't take all that much joy in his actions. To this Joker, dealing death and inspiring paranoia is a duty, a holy quest to expose the fragile nature of so-called civilized behavior and society.

1. Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy (1990)

What the hell? "Is he crazy?", you're thinking. Watch Dick Tracy again. You'll notice something: It's an incredibly sorrowful and sad motion picture, an adult drama about three people who excel at doing the thing that makes them miserable and can't find a way to break free. Dick Tracy is the best cop in the city, but he anguishes because he knows he's not making a dent in crime, and he knows that he's giving up any chance for happiness and a traditional family life with Tess Trueheart. When he stumbles upon The Kid, he immediate realizes that this could be the gateway to the family life he's wanted. Breathless Mahoney excels only at being a piece of ass. Sure she can sing, but no one would care if she didn't look like Madonna. She knows that she's doomed to either wither away alone as the conquest of one lowlife after another, or die at the hands of some random thug who thought her singing was just for him. Dick Tracy is the only man to be remotely kind and respectful to her, and she instantly falls for him, hoping that he may be her ticket out of her sordid life.

At the center of this hell, perhaps the cause, is Al Pacino's Big Boy Caprice. He is a criminal by trade. He may enjoy the riches that crime brings, but he takes no joy in the misery he creates. He yearns for respectability but knows that it cannot be attained. When he smacks his singers, abuses Breathless, and murders rivals like Lips Manlis, he knows full well what a bastard he is. He feels only guilt and shame in it. When he accidentally finds himself kidnapping Tess Trueheart at the end of the picture, he finds himself in the company of a woman who is beautiful on the inside and the outside. In a different time, in a better world, she could be his ticket out of his life of crime and depravity. But he knows that is not to be. Of all the villains and monsters and murderers that have graced the comic-book inspired silver screen, Big Boy Caprice is the only one dares to invite pity as well as scorn and/or a twisted idealization. The Joker may make being an amoral monster look like fun. Neville Sinclair makes it look dashing and romantic. But Al Pacino dares to play Big Boy Caprice as a real-world villain in a four-color world. When he looks in the mirror, he only sees shame, despair, and the unforgiving gears of justice that will bring his story to its inevitable end. For him there is no escape, and he damn well knows it.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Review: Righteous Kill (2008)

Righteous Kill
101 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Gene Siskel used to have a saying, 'is this film better than a documentary showing the filmmakers having lunch?' When you have a cast that teams Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and you then fill out that cast with Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy, Curtis Jackson, and Carlo Gugino, that bar becomes that much higher. Yet Righteous Kill isn't just less entertaining than those actors having lunch, it's less entertaining that watching those actors sleep.

The plot - Pacino and De Niro are veteran cops who end up investigating a series of vigilante murders of known criminals who have been turned loose by the justice system. As the case unfolds, De Niro ends up becoming a prime suspect. Guess how it ends! (Yep, you're correct). The primary draw of this one is of course watching De Niro and Pacino act together for longer than six minutes. Ironically, even in this one, they are kept apart for most of the picture. Yes, they have several scenes together, but the plot keeps sending them on their separate ways to investigate this or that aspect of the incredibly cliched case. They really only have two of three extended dramatic scenes, and only a conversation about Underdog and drug use has any spark.

What's most shocking is how cheap the film looks. The production values are sparce, and the entire film is shot in extreme close-up, as if to hide the shoddy sets and lack of money. Make no mistake, this feels like a mediocre direct-to-DVD film and had only one of the two titans appeared as opposed to both, that's exactly what would have happened. None of the supporting cast really registers, even the usually entertaining Donne Wahlberg is neutered by the banality of it all. It is kinda funny that he is partnered with John Leguizamo, as the two squared off last year as cop and Iraq-veteran/bank robber in Spike TV's miniseries The Kill Point (terrific first 2/3, atrocious final two episodes). Most disturbing is the arc for Carla Guguino, who's sexually aggressive character is physically violated and then mentally castrated as she is forced to stand aside and let the men do their manly work to avenge her honor.

But what of our star attractions? De Niro has never looked more tired and ornery. He sulks from scene to scene, basically doing the cliched De Niro tics that have been so often parodied. In a decade filled with lazy performances, this may go down as his laziest. At least Al Pacino looks like he's having a little fun mocking his stereotypical character bits. He does get a couple fun 'hoo-haa' speeches, and frankly he's just more fun to watch than the bored and low-key Robert De Niro. This is not either of their best work. Righteous Kill has a boring story that feels like something from 1987, mediocre acting from actors who all have done much better, phoned in performances from two living legends, and production values that render the film cheap and sometimes confusing. Had Robert De Niro and Al Pacino not teamed up for this one, it never would have seen a theater screen.

Grade: C-

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A neat idea - Iron Man 2 may be shot in IMAX 3D?

According to this Collider article, Jon Favreau is currently considering shooting Iron Man 2 partially in IMAX, with the possibly of having some scenes be in 3D, ala Superman Returns and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix. Considering how successful the IMAX footage turned out with Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight, it seems a logical 'new normal' for major action films to shoot several of their scenes in IMAX. I suppose we can now wonder which film will take the big step forward and shoot the entire film in IMAX. And then, which will be the first film to be shot entirely in IMAX 3D.

Favreau also allegedly mentioned The Mandarin several times, meaning that Faran Tahir had best keep his passport up to date. For the record, I still think it's very clever to apparently neuter the ethnic issue by having a middle-eastern actor (born in LA, parents from Pakistan and India) playing a character named The Mandarin. Still, that name is bound to cause trouble (the equivalent would be having Tony Stark spend Iron Man 3 battling 'The Negro' or 'The Jew'). But I digress...

I found the 3D footage to be relatively effective in Superman Returns, while the climactic battle in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was actually easier to follow in regular 2D, although the 3D effect did have an hypnotic quality that was fun the first time (my mother went gagga over it). Regardless of how it's used, it is inherently distracting when the film changes from 2D to 3D at various intervals. And, to a lesser extent, it was somewhat jolting when The Dark Knight flipped back and forth between 2.40:1 and 1.435:1 IMAX (or whatever aspect ratio that was). It will be even more jarring on Blu Ray, when my TV will magically lose the black bars on the side at several intervals.

I say, Jon Favreau just made Marvel a boatload of money with Iron Man, both in real profits and stock hikes. It's likely to be their biggest franchise for the next several years (I'm guessing it'll be bigger than Thor and Ant Man). For once, don't be cheap and stupid and give Favreau the money to shoot all or most of the film in IMAX, with either the whole film in 3D or only very stand-alone action scenes in the eye-popper format. Because if they don't, I fully expect Warner Bros. to beat them to the punch, either with Harry Potter 7.1 and 7.2, or the inevitable third Batman film in 2011.

I wasn't crazy about the first Iron Man, but the sequel certainly has the framework to be a better, more confident picture (without the need to resort to a half-hearted super villain showdown at the climax) that actually delves into the geopolitical ideas that it brings up around the edges. A sign of that confidence would be an attempt to outdo The Dark Knight in this pioneering visual medium, perhaps even to do it a little better. I say go for it.

Scott Mendelson

Let's play a silly game (Fill In The Trailer Tagline),

Complete this classic film preview quarry:

You know the line:
“How do you solve a murder… when the only suspect is you?”
“How do you solve a murder… when the victim is you?”
“How do you solve a murder… when you haven’t got a clue?”

“How do you solve a murder… (fill in the rest).”

Try to be intentionally cheesy or try to be intentionally funny.
Be stupid, be clever, maybe combine two cliched trailer lines, just be original. I’ll start…

“How do you solve a murder… when your laxative has just stopped working?”
“How do you solve a murder… when you’re already asleep?”

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Gigantic-Sized 2008 Summer Movie Wrap-Up: All In One Edition

(but mainly because I need a break from writing about politics)

And so it ends, as summer always does, with a whimper... Let us take a breather from convention and politics coverage and return to what this site is supposed to be about... uh... movies.

As we read our now hilariously inaccurate Entertainment Weekly Fall Movie Preview (as predicted, Australia just moved to Thanksgiving weekend), let us take a few moments to remember the summer that has now passed. Fair warning, this one will likely be long and random.

Biggest EVERYTHING and MORE! of the summer (also never happier to be wrong award):
The Dark Knight
Critical Grade: A-
The biggest opening weekend, the biggest opening day, the fastest grossing movie to $100 million, $200 million, $250 million and so on till the $500 million mark that it will break by Sunday. A stunningly positive 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and serious Oscar buzz for Health Ledger, director Chris Nolan, and the picture itself. Results like these are why people make big budget movies. This was the absolute best case scenario in every way.

Props to Warner Bros for giving $185 million to Chris Nolan and company, with no apparent strings attached. Mazel tov to everyone involved for making a terrifically entertaining and intelligent crime epic that actually had relevant discourse and genuine drama to go along with its fine acting and superhero theatrics (who would have thought that Gary Oldman would become the poster boy for weathered nobility and decency, even against Morgan Freeman?). And super-kudos for Warner Bros for going with a dark, scary, and definitively adult advertising campaign, which blunted the potential for another Batman Returns-type backlash. The result - the second highest grossing film of all time, the highest grossing film of this decade, and a somewhat plausible contender for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

See folks, this is what happens when you make tent pole movies that are tasty and nutritious. I wimped out at the end in regards to predicting a record setting opening weekend. I have never been happier to be wrong about that kind of thing. And make no mistake, no one saw this coming. No one saw $500 million. No one saw over $1 billion worldwide (it's already at $874 million). No one saw five weekends at number one (again, more a product of the mediocre late July/early August slate). Few saw Batman taking his place again at the top of the box office heap, retaking the opening and short-term earning records that this franchise more or less invented nineteen years ago. It may be overrated in that it's not the best movie ever made, but make no mistake, this was the perfect storm of success. And, make no mistake, Health Ledger's demise in January helped... a lot.

Giant Smash Hit that somehow was considered a disappointment:
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Critical grade: B
It made $315 million at the domestic box office and $780 million globally, on a budget of $180 million. Yet, as correctly predicted, the overpowering sneak attack of Iron Man took much of the thunder away from the alleged summer champion. Still, as I've stated elsewhere, it was never going to do Phantom Menace numbers, and let's take a second to list some movies that Indy 4 made more money than (not adjusted for inflation) -

Indiana Jones 1, 2, 3, Harry Potter 2, 3, 4, 5, Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi, Pirates Of The Caribbean 1 and 3, Independence Day, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring.

Regardless of whether the movie lived up to critical expectations, a box office smash is a box office smash.

Most high-profile flop of the summer:
Speed Racer
Critical Grade: A-
It breaks my heart as this was the most fun I had at the movies all summer. But it cost as much as $200 million all-told, and it barely made $85 million globally. And, with Warner Bros' bonehead decision to release a substandard Blu Ray, they've threatened their best chance to recoup their investment. Basically the critics just couldn't look past the shiny visuals and the fast cars, and half of them were still bitter over the Matrix sequels. Warner never figured out how to sell this one, as it looked too cheesy for teens but too intense for kids (wrong on both counts). And parents were probably worried that the film would give their kids an epileptic seizure. They missed out on one of the best family films in years, a heartwarming action film with terrific performances by John Goodman, Matthew Fox, and Susan Sarandon.

Iron Man
Critical Grade: C+
A surprising critical smash (overrated in my opinion, but I digress) that used its summer kick-off slot to completely steal the press from Indiana Jones and send Marvel stock skyrocketing. Scoring a shade over $100 million over 3.5 days, it scored the second biggest opening weekend and second opening day ever for a non-sequel. This was a B-list comic character that performed like an A-lister. Most B-list Marvel character movies (Ghost Rider, Daredevil, etc) are lucky to do $120 million. This one did $317 million. It's the highest grossing comic book movie not starring a bat or a spider, by almost $100 million (the next highest is X-Men: The Last Stand at $235 million).

Along with The Dark Knight, Iron Man is the movie that most people will remember when they think back on this summer with fondness. Once again, the early May jump-start movie stole the thunder from the mid-May monster. Don't be surprised if Robert Downey Jr. scores an Oscar nomination (and maybe wins a Golden Globe) for his wonderful star turn. Like Johnny Depp's nominated work in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl, this was a terrific movie star performance that made a film feel much better than it actually was (I like Pirates better than Iron Man, but again I digress).

More Of The Same (ie - 2+2 = 3+1 award):
The Incredible Hulk
Critical Grade: C-
In 2003, Universal attempted to make a franchise out of The Hulk comic book series. The $130 million film was poorly received by audiences and critics alike, taking in a mere $132 million in the US and $245 million worldwide following a huge $62 million opening weekend. So, five years later, Marvel spends its own money, $160 million, to reboot the franchise, going with a shorter, lighter, more brain dead and action packed Hulk movie. At the behest of Marvel (against the wishes of the director and star), it was a far less character driven and less insightful version of the not-so jolly giant. The result? A total gross of $134 million domestic and $243 million worldwide following a $55 million opening weekend. GENIUS! Hulk MAD! Marvel STUPID!

Critics are wrong and critics don't matter:
Critical Grade: B
Despite a wrongheaded critical drubbing ("Oh no! It's not exactly the movie that the trailer promised... it has story twists and surprises in the third act!!"), Hancock was a smash hit anyway. Will Smith's low key and emotionally compelling super hero deconstruction, which may or may not have been a metaphor for America's reputation abroad and its role on a global stage, opened to a mammoth $63 million three-day and $105 million five day total over the Fourth Of July weekend. Aided by surprisingly decent word of mouth, and a wonderful dramatic turn by Jason Bateman, the troubled production made $227 million to became his fourth highest-grossing movie, his second consecutive $200 million+ film, and a possible franchise. In a summer when most of the years top grossers got decent reviews, it needed to be remembered that most summers are filled with big hits that critics hate and audiences like. In this rare case, the audiences were smarter than the critics. Just remember that Will Smith movies normally make between $140-180 million, so don't sound the alarm bells when he returns back to Earth after the flukes that were Hancock and I Am Legend.

Holy moly, people with XX chromosomes go to the movies too!
Sex And The City
Critical Grade: NA (waiting for the extended-edition Blu Ray)

Predicted by few but me, Sex And The City rode a wave of hype to a $57 million opening weekend, predicated on a huge $27 million opening day. For the next two weeks or so after that opening Friday, the film seemed to be a one-weekend if not one-day wonder, registering huge drops. Then, the drops leveled and the film crawled its way to $152 million. A dynamic number that the pundits should have seen coming.

If there's a train coming, and you're just a car, get the hell out of the way!
Hellboy II
Critical Grade: B+
The most tragic consequence of The Dark Knight's crushing debut was the absolute destruction of the imaginative and absorbing Hellboy II, which had debuted to $35 million the weekend before. Alas, direct competition crushed this charming sequel and caused a 71% second weekend drop that the film never recovered from (it didn't help that The Dark Knight was so beloved by fans that they went back several times). Granted, this property was acquired by Universal apparently so they could advertise a four-film package of action franchises to stockholders early in the year. This $85 million sequel (to an original that grossed $66 million in the US) limped to $75 million and barely topped $100 million worldwide.

It did break one of the cardinal rules of franchises (never spend more on your sequel than the original made in the US), but this genuine improvement on the original deserved better. Ironically, Universal sold the film far better than Sony and was a much bigger fan of the property (those NBC crossover ads were charming). The only (inexplicable) mistake they made was debuting it seven days before the insanely anticipated Batman sequel (Paramount made a similar botch when it released Star Trek Nemesis five days before The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers back in Christmas 2002). Here's hoping it finds a solid afterlife on DVD/BluRay.

What? People DIDN'T love the original enough to line up for a sequel?
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Critical Grade: NA

Arguably the one under performer that surprised everyone, including me. But I should have seen it coming, because it was a perfect example of the 'Tomb Raider rule'. Simply, if people don't like or don't love the financially successful original film all that much, then they won't show up for a sequel even if it's better (producers of Superman Returns, take note!). While The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe made a stunning $290 million at the end of 2005, no one really loved the movie, and part of its success was predicated on things that couldn't be repeated (the hard pitch to evangelicals, the inaccurate press regarding King Kong's alleged under performance). Also, for long fantasy epics like this, Christmas really is the place to go (Harry Potter is the exception because it's Harry Potter).

It didn't bomb by any stretch of the imagination, but the $142 million US total for this allegedly superior sequel was underwhelming (less than half of the original's take) and the $200 million budget didn't do any favors. As is often the case for fantasy epics (see Golden Compass), overseas saved the day, earning $237 million for a worldwide take of $378 million. Speaking of which, The Golden Compass somehow brought down New Line despite making only $6 million less than Narnia 2 and costing $20 million less. If Warner Bros is smart, they'll make a film out of 'The Subtle Knife', keeping the budget below $150 million and releasing it overseas first to drum up positive press. Same thing here... Narnia is not a dead franchise as long as they trim the budget and release it over Christmas or Thanksgiving instead of in the middle of May.

Hey, how about that, good cartoons make a lot of money?!
Wall-E and Kung Ku Panda
Critical Grades: B and B+
Both well-reviewed cartoon titans opened with about $60 million and both ended up with a little over $210 million. Wall-E won the domestic battle with $217 million vs Kung Fu Panda's $212 million, but Dreamworks' family action film has made over $577 million globally vs Wall-E's $288 million (has the overseas roll out for Wall-E not quite begun?). Ironically, both solid cartoons surpassed the obscenely good Ratatouille ($205 million), but both fell short of the craptastic Cars ($244 million). Kung Fu Panda just the extra push for its surprising quality, while Wall-E had to overcome controversy about its alleged hard-liberal ideology (actually, it's the same message as every Pixar movie - surviving in safety vs living in danger). Both will have long healthy lives on DVD/BluRay.

In a weird way, Pixar and Dreamworks seem to be developing an odd niche. Pixar is making artier, more challenging adult fare (Ratatouille, Wall-E, The Incredibles), while Dreamworks is making more all-ages just for fun animated entertainment that is often just plain good (Kung Fu Panda, Over The Hedge). On one hand, Disney is relying less on obvious celebrity voices (see the glorious Meet The Robinsons, which on top of being my favorite film of 2007 had no major celebrities), while Dreamworks is using celebs to the hilt but forcing them to give completely wonderful dramatic performances (Bruce Willis and Nick Nolte in Over The Hedge, Dustin Hoffman and Ian McShane in Kung Fu Panda). As long as they avoid too many artistic misses like Shrek The Third and Chicken Little, this is a win for everyone.

One night in mid-July:

Guy 1: "Dude, The Dark Knight is sold out!"
Guy 2: "That f--in sucks, man, guys night out is ruined! What should we do?"
Guy 3: "Oh, wait, there are still tickets for Mama Mia! Rock on!"
Guy 1: "Hell to the yes! I love ABBA and that chick for Veronica Mars and Big Love is a total hottie!"
Guy 1: "Awesome! I totally know all the words to 'Dancing Queen'. Although if I cry during 'Slipping Through My Fingers', you guys can't make fun of me, ok?"
Guy 3: "Don't worry bro, you totally held my hand when I cried at the end of The Notebook, I owe you one."
Guy 2: "Ok, let's do it man, before it sells out too and we have to see Space Chimps."

Counter Programming is your friend.
Mama Mia!
Critical Grade: B
Mazel tov to Universal to the best counter programming I've seen in a long time. This one pulled in almost $30 million against the opening weekend of The Dark Knight. And it actually had slightly better legs than Hairspray (which I vastly preferred) and now has $131 million and it's still in the top ten (it's at a towering $338 million overseas so far). The critics were unduly harsh to Pierce Brosnan (he sounds fine on an audio clip, he was just filmed too much in closeup which rendered his exaggerated mouth movements more than a little goofy), but Meryl Streep could pull another default Oscar nomination if the slate is week this year.

They came and went, made their money and left no footprint...
Wanted and Get Smart
Critical Grade: D and C+
Both cost about $80 million and both ended up with about $130 million. One was an unfathomably lousy knock off of The Matrix and Fight Club, and it was deceptively marketed to boot (let's market it as an Angelina Jolie girl-power action film, never mind that Jolie barely gets any action and the film has a nasty misogynist bent). The other one was harmless fluff that coasted on the charisma of its all-star cast, and it's marketing was relatively accurate (it's got lots of stars and slick production values, it's got a few chuckles and family friendly action). Both performed to expectations, although Wanted's $50 million opening was a surprise. Wanted did $258 million globally while Get Smart did $202 million. Both will be forgotten in the dustbins of history.

The Simpsons Movie is to Sex And The City as McCale's Navy is to...
The X-Files: I Want To Believe
Critical Grade: C+
Even at a cost of only $30 million, this was an abject tank for Fox and an outright embarrassment. This one opened to only $10 million and crawled its way to $20 million before succumbing to the black oil cancer that is word of mouth and lack of interest. Yes, Fox made more money on Space Chimps (that one rode out its punchline status to a cool $30 million). They waited too long and didn't do anything that looked better than a mediocre episode. They should have spent a little more money, made it a little more grand, and they should have gotten an R-rating. That would have gotten casual fans interested. Of course, having a better plot and more easter eggs for the fans would have helped too (of course, it's hard to have surprise guest stars when nearly every supporting character was killed off by the time the series ended). This was by far the most shocking mega-flop of the year.

No one cares, so neither do I
Meet Dave
Critical Grade: NA
With a completely aimless ad campaign and a somewhat confusing title, this $60 million Eddie Murphy family sci-fi comedy was close to Pluto Nash in more ways then one. I still love this image though. $24 million worldwide... no wonder Murphy is allegedly desperate enough to do Beverly Hills Cop IV. Why he just doesn't go the Dreamgirls route and take supporting roles in quality productions, I don't know. But then, I've been saying the same thing about Harrison Ford for years.

Run for your lives! Adam Sandler is making a good movie!!
Don't Mess With The Zohan
Critical Grade: NA
Adam Sandler's core fan base seemed to have deserted him, as it often does when he tries to make an interesting or good movie. It's bad enough that they flee in terror when Sandler tries to stretch with Punch Drunk Love (never have I heard of more friends walking out of the theater), Spanglish, or Reign Over Me. I'm not saying those movies are good (the latter two are pretty lousy, but Sandler gives fine performances in both), but there is something dispiriting when your fans seem to smell the attempted quality a mile away. Even when he's in broad comedy mode, his lone flop was Little Nicky which was easily the most offbeat and ambitious comedy he has made. Yet, again, this summer we have Don't Mess With The Zohan, an allegedly not-that-bad comedy that has real ambition to deal with the Israel/Palestine crisis using broad comedy. While it opened to a Sandler-standard $40 million, it quickly plummeted and will barely reach the $100 million mark. It's at $99.8 million now and is still on 193 screens and pulling in about $25,000 per day. Needless to say, the second it crosses the century mark, it's gone from theaters.

Usually Sandler comedies open to about $40 million, drop like a stone in the second weekend, and then hold steady for about a month as they become the safe second-choice in the weeks that follow. Maybe it was the competition, maybe it was that alleged 'stench of quality', but Sandler fans did not show up for this one, making it his lowest grossing mainstream comedy since Little Nicky. To be fair, despite the $90 million budget and $130 million global take, the film will likely thrive on DVD/BluRay (I for one will be catching it, and I usually loathe the broad Sandler stuff). But it's an odd pattern when the more ambitious the project is, the less Sandler fans show up.

"Will They Ever Trust Us Again" Awards
The Love Guru and The Happening
Critical Grades: NA and C

One was an out and out flop, one was actually a decent hit that was much stronger overseas than it was domestically. Both were critical flops that did serious, probably permanent damage to the auteuers that wrote and directed them.

The Love Guru was a $60 million comeback vehicle for Mike Myers who had been absent from the live-action arena since the horrifyingly bad Cat In The Hat somehow conned its way to a $38 million opening and $100 million final in November of 2003. The previews looked ghastly, the buzz was poisonous, and the eventual reviews confirmed the worst. In a surprising case of viewers not taking the bait, the film opened to a mediocre $14 million. Had the film been better (or had it been not so hard PG-13 smarmy that it couldn't have been sold as a family film), that wouldn't have equaled a $35 million final gross. But it did and Paramount took a major bath on this one (global total was a pathetic $38 million). Artistic freedom issues aside, Paramount should have seen the writing on the wall and edited this down to a PG and marketed it as a family comedy starring the guy from Shrek and Austin Powers. Since Mike Myers hasn't made a good live-action film since the genuine classic Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, eleven-years ago, it's a true mystery where he'll go from here. I've had arguments with friends about whether The Love Guru's disappointment was a result of Myers' humor not being relevant in an Apatow-comedy world, but I'm sure had the film not been an alleged monstrosity, it would have been competitive.

The Happening was a more complicated situation. The film too was riding a wave of bad buzz, most of it concerning the alleged ego of writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. I wrote in defense of M. Night on a few occasions, but the film turned out to be pretty lousy (Mark Wahlberg gives the worst performance of his career and proves without doubt that Donnie is a better actor). Using the buzz of M. Night's first R-rating, the $60 million Fox film opened to $30 million, but quickly collapsed and ending up with $64 million. Overseas numbers were shockingly potent, and the film ended up with a global take of $152 million. Ironically, despite it's horrible reputation, The Happening was Fox's most successful summer film, both in total box office and in likely profitability. But, while the film was a solid money maker, M. Night has burned audiences three times in a row (I like The Village, but I'm in the minority). He has some serious damage control to attend to, and I can only hope that Avatar: The Last Air Bender (a period fantasy adventure based on a critically acclaimed Nickelodeon cartoon) can do the trick.

Brendan Fraser is box office GOLD!
The Mummy: Curse Of The Dragon Emperor and Journey T0 The Center Of The Earth 3D
Critical Grades: D+ and NA
Name any other film star this summer who toplined two films at near the $100 million mark in under a month? Both of these films are close enough ($98 million and $95 million respectively) that they'll get there in a week or so. Both were big hits in relation to cost, if not quite expectation. Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D was a surprise smash, riding a $21 million opening to a total that will be five-times it's opening (these days, anything over 3x is called legs). Using its 3D gimmick as a selling point ('only in theaters', one could assume), the film was the family-friendly 'second choice of the latter half of the summer, registering small drops each weekend. It's overseas numbers are weak (just $22 million so far), but this $45 million experiment from New Line/Warner Bros will profit just from domestic box office. It's a good thing too, since I'd imagine that the video business will be limited if they can't figure out a way to replicate the 3D experience on DVD or at least Blu Ray.

Yes, The Mummy: Curse Of The Dragon Emperor was an abomination of everything that was fun and exciting about the first two films (ironically, the wonderfully daffy Fraser was the only thing worth watching), but the $145 million production is doing gangbusters overseas, with a current global total of $295 million (it's done $98 million here and $196 million overseas). Even with a change in director, a change in leading ladies (Maria Bello, you are no Rachel Weisz), and the omission of fan-favorite Oded Fehr, the terrible third film still opened to $40 million and will reach at least $110 million before it scurries to DVD/BluRay in shame. Point being, Brendan Fraiser is a star in that he makes already attractive properties look a little better. He can't open on his own, but put him in something that looks appealing, and he's a real asset.

Note to studios - stop opening on Wednesday!
Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants 2, The Pineapple Express, and Tropic Thunder
Critical Grades: NA, C+, and C-
In all three cases, the August Wednesday openings, lazily hyped as the hip new strategy, caused either a crucial draining of pent-up demand for Sisterhood and Pineapple Express) before the important Fri-Sun portion of the weekend (had Pineapple Express opened on Friday, it would have easily been number 01 and taken the crown from The Dark Knight a week earlier), or they caused the press to libel Tropic Thunder as a disappointment due to soft a Wednesday gross, which really meant that people wanted to see it at their convenience rather than right away.

The Pineapple Express collapsed pretty quickly, mainly because, despite my love for David Gorden Green, it just wasn't that good. Sisterhood 2 pretty much followed the same pattern, earning a total of $42 million (a mere $3 million more than the original). Tropic Thunder (despite also not being nearly as smart or clever as it thinks it is) has held on, staying number one for three weekends (like The Dark Knight's four-weekend run, that says more about the competition) and nearing the $100 million mark. The foreign run has (I assume) only just begun with a mere $2 million overseas. Expect decent overseas business to cushion the budget for this $92 million war comedy. Considering the hype and extra expense, it's somewhat ironic that Tropic Thunder is basically performing like Dodgeball (a funnier movie, in my opinion).

And there you have it... yes there were other movies (can't learn much from Mirrors or Space Chimps), but these were the big ones in ways both good and bad. Expect studios to wrongly learn the following lessons:

- It's a fluke when female-driven films do well.
- The reason The Dark Knight was successful was that it was DARK, so let's make all comics films super-grim, even if its Elongated Man or Fantastic Four 3.
- The Dark Knight was dark and gloomy at a PG-13, so let's never make another R-rated comic book film, even if it's The Punisher or Sleeper.
- The Dark Knight was successful because Warner Bros. cracked down on piracy, partially by all but stripped-searched audience members at critics screenings, keeping a copy of the film from leaking online for a full 36 hours.
- Speed Racer was terrible and Wanted was terrific. for a full 36 hours, and
- Every Marvel property is GOLD, so let's spend $150 million on a movie for each of them, including Ant Man and Thor, then spend $500 million on an Avengers movie!
- All of those successful R-rated comedies (Tropic Thunder, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express) made less than the PG-13 Get Smart, so let's make all comedies PG-13.
- Robert Downey Jr, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, and Shia Lebeouf can open any property completely on their own to $30 million.
- Angelina Jolie can open anything other than action films (not that it's an unimpressive credential).
- Movie 'X' was a hit because people wanted a distraction from these grim times.
- Movie 'X' is symbolic about who is going to win the election in November.
- Next summer should be just as successful as this summer, otherwise it means that people just don't want to go to the movies and we're in a slump.

And the lesson that Hollywood hopefully will not learn:

- "Hey, let's kill Hugh Jackman, Shia Lebeouf, or Tom Hanks in late February. That will earn us tons of free publicity and make our film a cultural event." Lebeouf is the most likely. If he ODs on cocaine right before the Oscars, you read it here first.

Scott Mendelson


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