Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lost's Harold Perrineau - accurately annoyed about Michael...

As compelling as Thursday night's Lost finale was, Harold Perrineau is dead on, in regards to his character and his annoyance about being brought back just to be a punching bag. "I thought it was disappointing and a waste to come back, only to get beat up a few times and then killed. I felt like it was sort of pandering to some fans who wanted to see Michael punished because he betrayed people." I don't agree with his assessment that his skin color has anything to do with his character arc, but his other thoughts in this refreshingly candid TV Guide interview aren't inaccurate, and its worth a read if you're even a casual fan of the show.

Personally, I liked how Michael's murderous betrayal was going to seemingly go unpunished at the end of season two. He murdered two innocent bystanders in order to save his son, then left the island with Walt, seemingly never to be seen again. The idea that Michael must come back and redeem himself, with a cliche sacrifice to boot, is the sort of pandering to conventional morality that the show usually avoided. Sawyer never had to pay for his sins both on and off the island. Charlie got away clean with kidnapping Sun and died a saintly martyr. And Lock and Ben seem to keep their mystique of fascinated sympathy despite their increasingly villainous actions. Lost was great last week and it's shaping up to be one of the great myths of our generation, but Perrineau was right about the cop-out of Michael.

Scott Mendelson

Sex And The City does $27 million on Friday. "I don't think anybody could have predicted that ... they would try to use an airplane as a missile..."

Again, pardon the crude analogy, but the Condoleezza Rice quote above fits the bill. Apparently, even my high-end estimates of as much as $50 million were off by as much as 1/3. As I walked by the Callabasas Commons last night around 7:00pm and saw the lines around the block (maybe a dozen men total), I immediately gave myself a mental kick in the ass.

According to most box office sites (all of whom are 'shocked' and 'stunned'), Sex And The City has a one-day Friday take of just under $27 million. That means, assuming it isn't insanely front loaded, it'll end up with at least $70 million. Hardcore front loading is a possibility, but judging by the complete Saturday evening sell-outs at the Arclight Hollywood, I doubt it.

Of course, if it passes a mere $70.8 million (about 2.7x the opening Friday), it'll surpass 300 as the third biggest R-rated opening in history (behind Passion Of The Christ's $83 million and The Matrix Reloaded's $92 million). And this is a far more impressive performance than 300. Despite cliches to the contrary, lots of women went to 300 and enjoyed it (because, again, some women enjoy bare-chested muscle men running around with swords just as much as men do, albeit some of them for different reasons). Judging by the data and personal observation, there aren't many men at Sex And The City this weekend.

I was wrong. I guessed at the high end of expectations and still vastly underestimated the likely three day take. But I won't act stunned and shocked, because I should have known better. I was wrong and that's because I underestimated the core audience. Plain and simple. I screwed up because I chose The X-Files: Fight The Future ($30 million opening, $84 million final) as a template rather than the obvious one. I was also wrong, as were many others, about the lack of precedent for this kind of film. There is one painfully obvious precedent that, had I remembered it and used it as a guide, would have allowed me to peg the Friday numbers on the nose, and come pretty close to the three day figures. D'oh!

Call it sexism, call it arrogance, but even on the eve of this performance, male analysts and studio execs are still shaking their heads in disbelief. The reaction of the usually reasonable Jeff Wells' reaction sums up the lines of attack I'm reading in other places. It claims, among other things, that it is merely a one-weekend wonder and is thus not a hit. Yes, because a $65 million movie making at least $65 million in three days is a real flop if it collapses next weekend and only ends up with $150 million. Oh, and one weekend wonders have been hits - 'quick-kill blockbusters' - since Batman Returns in 1992. For the record, if it does 2.5x the Friday number it ends up with $65 million. If it does 2.5x its opening as it's final gross, it ends up with $163 million (a very similar take to The Simpsons movie on both counts and ironically identical to the 1992 domestic take of Batman Returns).

I have not seen the film and may not see it anytime soon. It is likely not my cup of tea and frankly the only reason I would see it is to participate in the conversation that will surround the film in the coming days. But the cries of anguish, the charges that it is an Al Qaeda recruitment film, the charges that it is the equivalent of the 'OJ Simpson verdict' in terms of showing women in a negative, superficial light is insane and downright sexist.

Mass audiences embrace all kinds of films that are stupid, superficial, or just plain terrible and they have for a century. Now that women are enjoying a film aimed at them that is just as sugary, fantastical, and (allegedly) fantastically terrible as Ghost Rider or Top Gun, the men in Hollywood are frothing at the mouth in amazement and condemnation. If anything, this will be good for female entertainment. Hopefully, now women can be allowed to enjoy films targeted at them that are just as fluffy and superficial and wish-fulfillment-y as Transformers (god help me if Sex And The City is as bad as Transformers). And, eventually, they can enjoy such films without being criticized for it. Yes, there are those who wish that every black-themed film was Rosewood or Do The Right Thing, but progress comes when black people can enjoy Soul Plane without being criticized for it by blacks and whites alike.

Sex And The City is just a major film aimed at women that is (apparently) just as superficial and goofy as fantastical as most of the wish-fulfillment aimed at young boys. The huge opening number merely points out how few of these are made for women. Nice work, New Line, er... Warner Bros.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"No one could have predicted the levees would break..."

Pardon the use of the Katrina disaster to make a box office related point, but here we go again. Sex And The City will open to $40-$50 million over the weekend (I'm thinking around $45 million) and the analysts and pundits will wring their hands in amazement and claim that women are the new hot audience. Just like Tyler Perry movies will always 'surprise' those who aren't paying attention to ten minutes ago. And then, five minutes later, the studios will get back to ignoring 51% of the moviegoing populace and pretending that all women's pictures must involve women suffering mightly in a female fashion.

It's also heavily ironic that Warner Bros. will reap the rewards for a film that they passed on and only obtained because they killed New Line Cinema and stole their production slate.

Scott Mendelson

"The worst idea in the history of bad ideas..."

In the 'this can't possibly be true' file, here's this little alleged nugget. This will likely end up on Snopes.com as an Urban Legend.

Basically, there are claims that various prints of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull have had audio drops intentionally placed at random points in the film, so as to detect if a certain print ends up online illegally. In defense of common sense, " ...projectionists said the problem was likely a technical error, caused by incompatibility between the film reels and some types of readers used in cinemas."

For the moment, I'm more willing to believe the human error explanation, rather than that Lucas and Spielberg, two audio and visual perfectionists, would allow Paramount to distort their film for some silly quest to catch pirates. Still, studios have been using visible tracking dots for years, and this could conceivably be the next step. Could studios be so willing to prevent alleged piracy that they deny the paying moviegoer a complete viewing experience at the movies?

Whatever the case, Paramount had better come out with an official explanation or at least a denial before the rumor machine takes hold and hurts any potential repeat business.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones beats Iron Man's three day weekend gross. "Suck it, Paramount!" says Paramount. Or 'Suck it Marvel', exclaims Lucasfilm.

Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull has topped the $101 million mark in the Fri-Sun portion of its opening weekend. As predicted, this one played like a family-friendly adventure that grew as the weekend progressed, rather than peaking on its opening Thursday night. My numbers were merely 94% accurate, but the pattern was 100% dead-on. So this weekend, it's Mendelson's right about Indy 4's debut weekend vs Mendelson blows it on Prince Caspian's first and second weekend. As of now, Indiana Jones' $101 million three-day puts it in 10th place, although if it can find an extra $2 million on Sunday, it can move up to 8th place. The current 4-day total of $126 million puts it in 8th place (no film in the top 13 places on that list ended up with less than $290 million). This is a phenomenal performance that performed the way the smash hits of my day did. They opened strong and got stronger as the weekend progressed, peaking on Saturday with strong matinees keeping Sunday in play.

The days so far -
Thursday - $25 million
Friday - $31 million (up 24%)
Saturday - $37 million (up 20%)
Sunday - $33 million (down 11%)

For the second time this month, my advice to not be overly optimistic about a potential blockbuster has been unnecessary. But the point still stands. In most things in life, I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than unexpectedly disappointed. And unreasonable expectations can in fact do damage to a film's longterm potential if the press decides to label something an instant bomb due to its not meeting inflated expectations. Providing Indiana Jones 4 doesn't crash and burn on Monday, a five-day take over over $150 million is in the cards (likely placing it fourth on the five-day list), and everyone involved should be overjoyed.

The strong daytime business means that kids and families are coming, which should help lessen the second-weekend drop (decent word of mouth from regular non-geeks and kids should help too). And mothers dropping their kids (and husbands?) off to see Henry Jones Jr. while they see Sex And The City next weekend won't hurt either. A plea though... if you're a young girl who wants to see the R-rated Sex And The City without a parent or guardian, please buy your fake ticket for Speed Racer. It needs all the help it can get ($36 million after three weeks).

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones 4 - $31 million Friday (plus updates on Prince Caspian, Iron Man)

As expected, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull built on its opening day, with a solid 25% uptick. The official estimate for Friday is $31 million, which puts the two-day total at a solid $56 million. Although the Friday number wasn't quite as high as I personally expected, this is still a fine figure. It suggests a weekend Fri-Sun total closer to Matrix Reloaded ($92 million) or X2 ($85 million) as opposed to my optimistic comparison to Shrek 2 or Star Wars Episode III (both about $108 million). Don't let the naysayers take the lead here... this is a terrific number for an old franchise that skews much older than the usual blockbuster. For the record, it is the fourth best ever for a non-opening day Friday. Ahead of Indy 4 are Spider-Man 2 with $32.5 million, Revenge Of The Sith with $33.5 million, and Matrix Reloaded with $31.3 million. For what it's worth, Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 with $42 million on its opening day Friday, but it had $13 million in 8pm-midnight Thursday shows.

I was quite wrong, however, about Prince Caspian maintaining a healthy percentage of its opening weekend figure due to being the second choice for those who had already seen Crystal Skull by Friday or Saturday. In retrospect, I should have realized the fallacy of my argument. If I was correct in claiming that Indiana Jones would not be as front loaded during the weekend, then most moviegoers would not need a 'second-choice' for this weekend's movie going.

Anyway, Caspian dropped a nasty 66% from Friday to Friday for a second Friday gross of $6.6 million. It should close out the long weekend with just under $100 million, which is still a more than decent 11 day total. The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe held steady after a second-weekend drop (competition from King Kong) and had a few more healthy weekends afterward, so we'll see if Caspian can repeat that feat. Even if it can't, a modestly under performing domestic total of under $150 million (only in relation to costs) will do just fine combined with decent international and DVD/BluRay revenue.

Iron Man is still holding up well and should close the long weekend just past $257 million, which would place it above Batman (1989) as the highest-grossing comic book film that isn't Spider-Man 1, 2, or 3 (adjusted for inflation, Batman's numbers would be about $433 million today). $300 million is likely in the cards for Iron Man. Despite my lukewarm feelings on the movie, this is a remarkable performance for what is basically a B-list comic character. Mazel-tov to Downey Jr, as he gets every ounce of credit for this one. If the fall Oscar season underwhelms, don't be surprised if the popular Downey Jr. parlays this high-quality movie star performance into an Oscar nomination, ala Johnny Depp in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones - $25 million Thursday...

As I inexplicably predicted, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull pulled in an estimated $25 million on its first day, according to Fantasy Moguls. Maybe I'm getting better at this again. Again, this is in line with the idea that this is not a youth-driven blockbuster, but an old-fashioned see it over the weekend smash. I'm not the only one waiting till the weekend. But we're all planning on seeing it this weekend.

Alas, the word of mouth has been mixed at best, with the possible realization that critics were bending over backwards not to trash a beloved icon (most of the positive reviews were of the 'B-' variety). I'll let you know what I think after I see it weekend, as well as an update on further box office numbers. So for me, the question is whether I'll actually like it as much as The Mummy series, The Rundown, or Sahara, three would-be Indy knock-offs that succeeded on their own merits with fun characters and bountiful adventure scenes that used both CGI and old-fashioned stunt work. The Mummy series was heavily CGI, as befitted its supernatural stories. The Rundown was a mix of CGI and practical fight scenes, and Sahara was refreshingly practical. Still, what bitter irony would it be if The Mummy 3: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor turns out to be a better film than Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review: Kung Fu Panda: The IMAX Experience (2008)

Kung Ku Panda: The IMAX Experience
2008
85 minutes
rated PG (for sequences of martial arts action)

by Scott Mendelson

Kung Fu Panda is flawed in many of the places you’d expect, but it is surprisingly successful in other areas. It packs an unexpected wallop in key dramatic scenes, and the film isn’t shy about the kicks and the punches. The kung fu hurts in this film as much as its PG rating will allow. As a result, the film fails as a comedy but is successful as an action picture, and occasionally as a drama.

A bit of plot: In ancient China, Po (Jack Black, giving a more realistic and human performance than he usually does when playing a live-action human being) is an overweight and over-eating panda bear. Although his father (James Hong, a national treasure as always) hopes and prays that his son will follow in his footsteps as a noodle cook, Po has a yearning for kung fu. When the day comes for the legendary ‘dragon warrior’ to be chosen, he sneaks into the ceremony to see the spectacle. As ancient master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) waits to decide among the five most likely contenders, Po watches through a peephole in anticipation. Although Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman in his best work since Stranger Than Fiction) presumes that the chosen one will be among his five favorite students, fate plays a hand, and Po is miraculously chosen as the vaulted Dragon Warrior. Now a disgruntled Shifu must train Po in the ways of kung fu before the murderous Tai Lung (Ian McShane) escapes his prison cell and attempts to take his revenge on Shifu.

The set-up for what I have just described is a little loose and not a little dull. Most of the feared Jack Black over-the-top comic antics occur in the first act, and the film suffers from his usual buffoonery. But once Po is chosen and once Tai Lung is introduced, the picture kicks into gear. Ling’s prison is a wonderfully imaginative visual and his escape rivals any action scene in Speed Racer or Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

In fact, despite the fact that this is a ‘kids cartoon’, it is credible as a martial arts adventure. The fight scenes, when they arrive, are long, brutal, and dramatically potent. They are real throw downs, with the benefit of superior animation, which allows the flying and leaping to be that much more possible and plausible. Tai Lung is given a true menace and a multi-layered back story that connects him very personally and sympathetically with Master Shifu (his origin is similar to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith or Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The major showdown between Shifu and Tai Lung is emotionally charged, brutally violent, and completely compelling.

Also making the film work is the truly stellar vocal work of the main characters. Dustin Hoffman turns in a beautifully shaded and subtle read, portraying the tragedy of a teacher who cannot show love to his pupils because he blames love for his greatest failure. Ian McShane is truly intimidating, adopting a low-key Michael Wincott villainy. His back story and his subsequent actions allow us to fear and sympathize with him, which adds an element of pathos to what follows.

The main fault is the lack of real arcs to the Furious Five, the prize pupils of Shifu who each represent a specialized type of kung fu. Angelina Jolie voices Tigress, Jackie Chan voices Monkey, Lucy Lui voices Viper, Seth Rogan voices Mantis, and David Cross voices Crane. Yet only Tigress gets the slightest arc and the other four performers get a total of maybe twenty lines of dialogue combined. On the plus side, Randall Duk Kim gets a terrifically moving final scene with Hoffman.

Befitting the high budget and prestige of DreamWorks animation, much of the animation is beyond gorgeous, appearing to be truly 3-dimensional even on a 2D IMAX screen. Shot in 2.35:1 scope, this is perhaps the most visually arresting cartoon that DreamWorks has ever made, and the authentic Chinese locations rival Ratatouille for visual splendor.

Kung Fu Panda is not a masterpiece, but it is easily one of the best DreamWorks cartoons in their canon. It is not as good as Over The Hedge, or the first two Shrek films, but it is about as good as Antz, and it easily surpasses anything else they’ve made. The expected lowbrow Jack Black bumbling is present and accounted for, but the film eventually moves past that and settles in as a credible action cartoon with several surprisingly potent dramatic scenes and a few terrific action set-pieces. It works both as a placeholder for Wall-E and a solid family-friendly entertainment in its own right. In short, Kung Fu Panda kicks ample amounts of butt.
Grade: A-

Final Indiana Jones box office guesses...

It's a mere ten hours before the official Thursday estimates come trickling in, so let's do this before it's too late. For what it's worth, I started this post about three days ago but kept getting distracted. I'm not as sharp in the realm of box office guessing as I was back in my high school and college days, but here goes...

The record five day opening is $172 million for Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. Other numbers to consider are the $140 million five-day gross for The Matrix Reloaded and the $121 million five-day gross for Star Wars: Episode II: Attack Of The Clones. Since Indiana Jones' opening weekend will officially be the same Thurs-Mon schedule as those three examples (with the added benefit of Monday being Memorial Day), those films can figure in here.

Now, in theory, every person who went to see Star Wars Episode III would likely go to Indiana Jones 4 just as briskly. Of course, in three years, people get older and lifestyles change (I'm married with a kid and getting over a cold, so instead of the Wednesday midnight showing, I'm waiting till a Saturday 3pm matinée), but the general fan base remains the same. The question is whether the older, busier fans will see it during opening weekend or be willing to wait till its convenient, even if that means Tuesday or next weekend. The reviews have been mostly positive (79% on Rotten Tomatoes) and there is a general sense of relief that the film wasn't botched. All in all, the hype and reviews are setting the stage for a mammoth weekend.

However, don't expect any single day records. Unlike most tent pole franchises of late, Indiana Jones is skewing a little older, banking on adults and twenty-somethings who loved the series more so than young kids who think that Indy looks swell. Thus, there may not be enough newer young fans to compensate for the ones who are growing too old for the 'see it as soon as possible' mentality. And, since again this is a series that skews older, beware of older fans over-estimating the crowds and deciding to skip opening weekend. This happened with Star Wars: Episode One, where there was so much talk about how quickly sold-out each showing would be that many casual fans decided to wait and not fight the crowds, thus preventing the three-day Fri-Sun record from being broken.

Also, in a manner similar to Shrek 2, this is a weekday opening of a movie that fans and casual moviegoers can wait till the weekend to catch. Thus, the film's biggest day will likely not be Thursday, but rather Friday or Saturday. Anything over $30 million for Thursday would be a huge win, and don't believe the naysayers who decry a mere $25 million opening take. A $25 million Thursday could easily equal a $35 million Friday that could build, Shrek 2-style, into a $40 million Saturday.

Taking that into account, expect a $110 million Fri-Sun gross, plus about $25 million for Thursday and $25 million for Monday. So that puts the probable (who are we kidding, I'm just doing the math and guessing just like everyone else) five-day number at a bountiful $160 million (which would put it fourth all time, behind Spider-Man 3, Pirates 2, and Star Wars III). Of course, if the numbers get anywhere near the $169 million that Spidey and Pirates scored, expect some number-massaging to allow Indy to move up the list to number two.

So, there it is, Scott Mendelson's official Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull predictions:

Thursday - $25 million
Friday - $35 million
Saturday - $40 million
Sunday - $35 million
Monday - $25 million
Total Five-Day - $160 million
Official three-day weekend number (Fri-Sun) - $110 million

I'll likely update tomorrow once the actual numbers come in.

Scott Mendelson

Something's 'happening' here (and what it is ain't exactly clear).

Also benefiting The Incredible Hulk is that it will be opening against the third most pressured movie of the summer, M Night Shyamalan's The Happening. Shyamalan has inexplicably lost favor with the public after basically one bad film - Lady In The Water. I liked The Village, and history will be kind to it (it was not a horror film but a thoughtful and disturbing parable of how governments use irrational fear to keep the populace distracted). This, despite making two obscenely successful and well-liked mainstream thrillers (The Sixth Sense and Signs) and two personal dramas that made a lot of money despite being divisive (Unbreakable and The Village). The Happening is his alleged return to his roots, a scary, moody thriller that is closer to Signs than Unbreakable. That he was encouraged to include R-rated content means that everyone is playing for keeps. On the plus side, the film cost under $60 million, so as long as it doesn't outright flop, it should be profitable.

As for me, M. Night Shyamalan still remains one of my favorite directors. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are two of the best films of this decade. Signs, tense and suspenseful as hell, was a simpler film. He called it his 'Wal-Mart film', having been burned by the response of Unbreakable. But even his stupid is smarter than most people's intellectual.

Even his lesser works, be it the flawed but interesting The Village, or the complete misfire of Lady In The Water, feel wholly original and the work of someone who truly gives a damn. His directorial style resembles a twisted Claude Chabrol and his dialogue is always refreshingly human. While his scripts are hit and miss, he is never less than a visionary pro behind the camera. He pulls terrific performances out of mainstream stars like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson and peppers the rest of his cast with interesting character actors. Even if The Happening underwhelms (as one off-hand web review claims), I will continue to look forward to this most unique auteur, whose successes are beyond compare and who's failures are always the result of trying too much, rather than daring too little. He is an American original and should be treated as such.

Scott Mendelson

Incredible Hulk: the benefit of no/low expectations?

In May of 2005, like most fans, I went to see Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith at the first general midnight show, slightly nervous that I would dislike the movie. In June of 2005, I went into Batman Begins under the same circumstances, wondering if I would like this new interpretation of my favorite fictional character. Of course, both fears were unfounded. But, come July, 2005, I didn't give a flying crap about whether I was going to enjoy Fantastic Four.

Ironically, I did enjoy it far more than I expected to (my original review... pardon the weird formatting that is not my doing), but the point was that for me, Fantastic Four was a no-pressure comic book adventure. There were no expectations, no childhood memories being risked. It promised colorful family drama with slightly campy comic book adventure for a lazy Saturday matinee, and that's exactly what it delivered.

Yes, it is more fun to love a film that you wanted to love, but as people go into Indiana Jones 4 this weekend, a part of them will be nervous. Will they like it? If they don't, will it diminish their appreciation for the other three films? And the expectations for The Dark Knight are even more potent. Some will complain if its too long, others if it's too short. Some will complain because it's not the gore-soaked bloodbath that they inexplicably expect. Some will complain because The Joker wears a neck tie and not a string-tie, some will complain that Dent's 'incident' differs from the comic is some minor way.

No one will be nervous going into The Incredible Hulk, which opens on June 13th with a somewhat negative buzz. As long as it delivers on a pure action level, people will generally be satisfied. I mentioned a few weeks ago about how the trailer seems to make the movie resemble the 2005 video game - Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and in retrospect that's a pretty smart move. When it comes to The Hulk, people basically want to see the green giant smashing stuff and occasionally smashing people. The second preview seem to be promising just that, and thus the buzz level is slowly rising. After a full month of movies that hardcores truly wanted to love (Iron Man, Indiana Jones 4, Sex And The City), I imagine that The Incredible Hulk will benefit from being the sort of summer movie that you just want to kick back on a sweltering Saturday afternoon and just enjoy.

Note - For what it's worth, the extended cut of Fantastic Four is actually a really fine film, and both it and the first 30 minutes of 'Rise Of The Silver Surfer' actually succeeded as honest, compelling human drama more so than the overrated Spider-Man 2 or Iron Man. Watch Fantastic Four 1 and 2 again and 'marvel' at how the Richards family behaves like rational adults who care about each other and actually talk about their problems.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indiana Jones And The Relief That It Will Probably Be Fun... (plus Caspian 'underperforms')

Well, if Roger Ebert likes it, I probably will too. Alas, other responsibilities will likely prevent me from seeing it until opening night at 8pm-ish like a mere mortal. As someone who didn't particularly want a fourth Indiana Jones picture (out of fear of them making a bad film and marring a nearly perfect trilogy), it's a relief to read that it's apparently pretty good.

The surprisingly potent Prince Caspian reviews caused me to revise my initial $65 million guess to a more optimistic $85 million estimate. I should have trusted my gut. Still, anyone that tells you that a $56 million three day take is disappointing is either lying or an idiot. This one will have lots of room to grow, as it's now the second-choice to anyone who can't get into Indy 4 or has already seen it by the start of the weekend. It won't come close to Lion/Witch/Wardrobe's $293 million, but it'll do just fine. As to why the lower number, blame three probable things: the lack of the direct pitch to Christian audiences, the general lack of super-duper must-see interest in this series (very few truly loved the first film), and the fact that the advertising made it look like a dark PG-13 carnage fest that snuck in with a PG (expect the second weekend drop to be smaller than normal as worried parents discover that it IS ok for their younger tykes). As for how well Indiana Jones 4 will do for its five day weekend (Thursday-Monday), I'm honestly not sure at this point.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, May 16, 2008

Prince Caspian weekend preview and a note on summer running times...

Prince Caspian screened on Monday night and the reviews are surprisingly positive. I may be able to check this one out over the weekend, otherwise I'll try to grab a cheap Sunday morning show next weekend while everyone else is at Indy. With reviews like this, the opening number will probably be closer to $80 million than $45 million. The original opened to $67 million back in December of 2005. And since most of the casual and hardcore moviegoers have already seen Iron Man and don't seem to care about Speed Racer, this is the only option in town. Let's give it a Two-Towers type boost and peg it at $85 million. Still, it could pull a Shrek 2 (same release weekend, same 'eh, that's nice' level of interest for a seemingly unwanted sequel), although it's 145 minute running time will prevent any records from being shattered.

Speaking of running times, isn't it a little ironic that Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, at 120 minutes, is turning out to be one of the shortest of the major tent poles this summer. This from Steven Spielberg, who literally went 21 years without making a film that was under two hours (from 1984's 118 minute Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom to 2005's 105 minute War Of The Worlds). Yet now Steven is the slim and trim filmmaker in a summer filled with some very long movies.

Let's look at just May:

Iron Man - 126 minutes
Speed Racer - 135 minutes
Prince Caspian - 145 minutes
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull - 120 minutes
Sex And The City - 140 minutes

And there is every possibility that The Incredible Hulk could run a touch over two hours. That was a point of contention between director Louis Letterrier and the Marvel bosses (ironically, Ed Norton ended up getting tagged again as a troublemaker, this time while siding with the director). Hellboy was over two hours so Hellboy II probably will be too. I have no idea how long Hancock will run, but X-Files 2 oughta run at least 125 minutes (ie - the length of about three television episodes), and Mama Mia will likely be over two hours, as are most musicals. The likely winner for the shortest live-action tent pole could be M Night's The Happening, as his movies almost all have the odd habit of being about 107 minutes.

And, of course, the alleged epic of the summer, The Dark Knight will allegedly run a whopping 165 minutes (another reason why it won't break records on opening weekend, natch). Of course, if the movie is any good, I could watch a six hour cut, but there is a fear of Pirates 3 and Spider-Man 3 style bloat. Here's to it playing more like The Godfather of superhero films and less like Heaven's Gate.

Scott Mendelson

My thoughts exactly...

This article from Darth Mojo, 'The Asssassination Of Speed Racer', explicitly lays out what I've mentioned for the last week, namely that the barrage of brutally negative reviews for Speed Racer were inexplicable and not directly related to the film itself. And yes, everyone I've talked to who has seen the film in the last week has enjoyed it and doesn't understand the critical drubbing. Although the artwork is a little tasteless, the content is dead on (although Transformers was every bit as bad as Speed Racer is good).

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Quick Notes...

Quick Notes...

Apparently, the Joker action figures from The Dark Knight are vying for the status of collector's item. They all sold out in minutes, presumably to reclusive collector types or overgrown children who still live in their parents' basement ('best action figure ever'?). They are now allegedly going for as high as $60 on Ebay. I wonder if the figure will come with 'awesome insomnia action'?

Good to hear that ABC has finally rescued Scrubs for one last eighteen-episode season. It hasn't been in truly peak form since season four, and even its creator agrees. Bill Lawrence promises a return to the more dramatic and less zany days of seasons 1-3, when the show was a better, more heart wrenching and heartwarming drama than any would-be serious melodrama. For me, downloading the previous three seasons (before their release on DVD) and watching them all was just what I needed during a mediocre period in early 2005 when my Los Angeles adventures had hit a bump or two. I can't tell you the number of people that not only loved this show but claim that it cheered them up at just the right moment in their lives. At its best, it was one of the finest sitcoms ever aired, and it deserves to exit on its own terms.

It'll be funny (funnier?) to watch Smallville next year with nearly no one left on the show. Lex Luthor is gone, Lana Lang is gone, Pete Ross left back in season 3, John Kent died of a heart attack in season 5, Martha Kent is off serving out Dad's state senate term, and Lionel Luther just took a dive out a window. Clark Kent and Chloe Sullivan are the only original characters left in any capacity. For next season, the big gimmick is the coming of Doomsday, because there's a villain that the fans always cherished. Seriously, put this one out of its misery.

It's interesting how various groups are trying to peg Barack Obama as somehow anti-Israel or anti-semitic for having the same levelheaded ideas about the Middle East conflict that most Israelis share. Seriously, the quality of debate regarding the Israel/Palestine situation is actually more varied and nuanced in Israel than it is in America. On the plus side, there is a brand new political action committee, J Street, that is trying to lobby for a less hard-right policy towards Israel. "Pro Israel, Pro Peace". Sounds sensible to me.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Iron Man soars, Speed Racer (alas) crashes and burns...

Alas, Speed Racer did perform like a normal film (as opposed to a successful family film, that shoots up on Saturday and Sunday), ending the weekend with a mere $19 million and change. It came in just below What Happens In Vegas (about $20 million), although the rankings may change tomorrow when the final numbers are released. Obviously, be it the reviews, the false assumption that it would make adults motion sick, concerns about its 135 minute running time, or the relentless popularity of Iron Man, families did not bite for this one.

This stinks, both for Warner Bros (who spent anywhere from $125 million to $200 million making and marketing this one) and for the few of us who really liked this movie. Here's hoping it does better overseas, because it'll be lucky to get to $70 million in the US. Of course, this could become a real hit on DVD (where parents will like the idea of a 2.25 hour babysitter), specifically becoming a definitive demo title for BluRay. Still, this just stinks. Also of note, another issue with Warner Bros. marketing The Dark Knight towards adults... they lost the ability to have the new Dark Knight trailer debut exclusively with Speed Racer, which surely would have helped scare up a few bucks from geeks and fans (it certainly helped I Am Legend back in December, if only a little bit).

Still number one is Iron Man, which ended up with $50.5 million. The new ten day total is now $177 million, which still puts it number four on the list of biggest ten-day totals for non-sequels (it drops to fifth if you don't count Thursday numbers, which added an extra $3.5 million to the 'ten day total'). It also has the fifth biggest second weekend for a non-sequel, but it's so close to The Incredibles' second weekend take that it may drop to sixth when the final numbers come out. It has an outside chance of passing $200 million on Thursday, but it looks like it'll do it on the very day it loses its crown to Prince Caspian. I sincerely hope that Paramount and Marvel shower Robert Downey Jr with flowers, balloons, and chocolates, since his performance is the only thing that people are talking about.

Next weekend will see another big question mark, with Prince Caspian. Expectations range anywhere from middle of the road performer to second-highest grossing film of the summer. Yes, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe was quite popular (it edged out Harry Potter 4 to become the second highest grosser of 2005), but the buzz has been almost non-existent. And Speed Racer shows, to a certain extent, that families won't run out to see something just because it's targeted at them. Prince Caspian certainly won't bomb and I'd be surprised to see a total of less than $150 million, but the first reviews aren't particularly good (I won't be able to make the Monday El Capitan showing, alas) and the previews make it look like a brighter, sunnier Two Towers knock-off. It could open to $80 million, it could open to $45 million. It's actually kind of fun to go into this summer with so few sure-things.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Parental Discretion advised? How the Dark Knight ad campaign will likely prevent a record opening.

As much as I would love to see The Dark Knight shatter every box office record in the book and allow Batman to reclaim his title as box office king, I can't see it happening.

The best case scenario is that it performs like The Bourne Supremacy. Like Dark Knight, that was a sequel to an adult film that was a solid hit in theaters, but it didn't open huge because people didn't expect it to be as good as it was. Additionally, Bourne rode its wave of good word of mouth to be a monster on DVD. Thus, we had a critically acclaimed sequel to a movie that critics and audiences all really liked, but didn't all discover at once.

For the sequel we had everyone who liked the first one going all at once to see the sequel over the opening weekend. Thus you had an almost doubling of the opening weekend from $29 million to $52 million (a 1.7x increase). If The Dark Knight follows a similar pattern, as it has thus far, we could see a near doubling of its opening weekend, which would amount to about $86 million over three days. Plus the morbid curiosity factor and the geek factor could theoretically put it over $100 million. But it won't happen like that. There is one huge strike against it even coming close to that comparison or any other records of note: kids.

Ironically, considering the release and fall out of Batman Returns (I know, I seem to bring that up every season for one reason or another), the very marketing campaign that is building such buzz for The Dark Knight is the very thing that will prevent it from reaching any record heights.

First of all, a quick digression, the ad campaign is built around fans of the mythology as opposed to casual observers. No one in either trailer ever calls The Joker by his nickname. And nowhere are we told just who Harvey Dent is, like the fact that is he the new district attorney. So far, the two trailers feel like inside baseball. But that's a minor issue (easily rectified in June) compared to the big problem.

The entire ad campaign (trailers and posters) is basically daring parents to bring children. It's all about darkness, fear, despair, failure, and mass death. For reasons right or wrong, parents felt comfortable bringing their kids to Pirates 2 or Iron Man. I can't imagine most parents of a seven or eight year old not thinking twice before bringing their son or daughter to watch a most terrifying Joker as he blows up hospitals, slaughters police officers, drops women out of windows, and basically does his best to give your kids nightmares (and that's just what the trailers reveal).

It's the Achilles heel that will prevent The Dark Knight from opening as high as Iron Man or Indiana Jones 4. Heck, even The Incredible Hulk looks more colorful and less frightening. R-rating not withstanding, The Matrix Reloaded was basically sold as harmless sci-fi kung-fu. From a protective parent's viewpoint, I'd imagine The Dark Knight basically looks like a horror film that happens to feature well known comic book characters.

And that may be a great thing for adults and action fans and geeks. And as a hardcore Batman fan, there's an outside shot that it could be my new favorite movie ever. But in order to set records, you need to at least trick families into thinking that your movie is appropriate. The marketeers have spent the last several months doing just the opposite. And it will most certainly cost them a shot at the title. But, gosh, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Scott Mendelson

The Friday numbers... curse you Mario Kart Wii!

Alas, the avalanche of mediocre to lousy reviews, along with the continuing strength of Iron Man, dealt a nasty blow to Speed Racer on its opening day. Coming in a measly third place, the Wachowski brothers' epic family racing adventure blew a tire with a mere $6.1 million. Yes, that's right, among openers, it came in second to the inexplicably popular 'What Happens In Vegas', which appears to be a remake of that other Ashton Kutcher vehicle, 'Just Married' (that one co-starred Britney Murphy and opened at number one in January of 2004 with $17 million). This new version took in $7.1 million last night. Apparently swapping Cameron Diaz for Brittney Murphy was worth a few million over the full weekend. Look for a $21 million total. This one shouldn't have cost more than $40 million, so it should be a tidy profit for Fox in the long run.

As for Speed Racer, we won't know till tomorrow whether it plays as a kids film or is just an overall flop. Still, even if it performs like Spy Kids (almost double the Friday numbers on Saturday and Sunday), it'll still come in under $30 million, which will be unfortunate for this $125 million gamble. As the title of this post suggests, I guess Warner Bros. can blame all of their target audience staying home and playing Mario Kart Wii. Hopefully its visual innovation will help it do better overseas (both of the previous recent Warner summer films that opened on this date, Troy and Poseidon, did far better overseas than domestically). Obviously I'm partial, but I really hope that families catch on to this one in the coming weeks.

For the two of you that care, Made Of Honor dropped 55% from last Friday for a $2.2 million gross. Moving on...

Number one of course is still Iron Man. Down a shocking 65%, the allegedly popular comic book adventure took in $12.5 million on it's second Friday (I guess that's what passes for legs these days). Regardless, I suspect that it'll even out a bit and possibly top the $50 million mark for the weekend (even if some number fudging has to be done). I may not care for the movie, but, assuming it crosses the $50 million mark, it'll be at least the fifth biggest second weekend that didn't fall during a holiday weekend (for whatever that's worth). It's ten-day total should be just over $175 million (likely sandwiched between The Two Towers and Harry Potter III) so it'll likely cross the $200 million mark next Friday. I really should have bought Marvel stock two weeks ago.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, May 9, 2008

Wrong about Beowulf, Wrong about Speed Racer...

I can't remember a time that I so enjoyed a movie that the majority of the critics so loathed. Yet on the morning of its release, Speed Racer is tracking at 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yesterday evening, David Poland hit it on the head with one reason so many critics are trashing this absolutely delightful adventure picture, but I have another theory of my own.

Back in November, many critics who gave mixed to negative reviews to Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf seemed overwhelmed by the visuals to the extent that they couldn't or wouldn't acknowledge that there was actually a story and characters involved in the animated carnage. Even many of the positive reviews seemed to concentrate only on the spectacle. Whether it made critics feel cool to feign moral superiority to shout to the heavens that this film was all style and no substance, or they just didn't have the ability to multi-task, they seemed to ignore the very movie they were sent to review.

They didn't notice a relatively compelling and emotionally potent story, which used the original epic poem as a blueprint for a sober, meditative story about the myth of heroism (granted, the story eventually came to resemble the King Arthur legend more than the original bare-bones poem). They didn't notice that the film was not non-stop action, but rather had a handful of action set-pieces that were supported by real actors doing real acting (John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins gave their best performances in years). In essence, it was a real movie of real quality that happened to be delivered in a visually groundbreaking way.

We now have the same pattern in the negative Speed Racer reviews (as well as some of the positive ones). "There's no story!" "The characters are non-existent!" "It's non-stop racing!" Yes, the movie is a visual marvel and it's easy to just drink in the picture show. But the visuals only work because of a strong story and sympathetic characters that surround them.In many ways, and I'm not the first to say this, the film feels like a decent Pixar effort. Incredible visuals grounded in actual storytelling that puts emotional attachment as a priority. Again and again, critics carp that too many blockbusters are all about the CGI or the action set-pieces. Yet, twice now, we've have visually groundbreaking adventure films that actually have the gall to be good movies, and the critics at large seem determined to ignore everything but the very flash and dazzle that they then decry.

Ironically, when Beowulf came out on DVD, many critics seemed to react in shock at discovering the very things that they ignored or missed in the theatrical experience. "Oh wow, on this second viewing, I noticed the story and the characters!" But being overwhelmed by the theatrical experience, be it in regular theaters or IMAX, is no excuse. Critics are supposed to be able to see the forest for the trees. It's one thing to not like the characters or not care for the story, it is another thing to ignore them and then criticize their absence. If they can't even be bothered to pay attention to the elements of the movie that they are reviewing, then they have no business being critics.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Review: Speed Racer (2008)

Speed Racer
2008
135 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

I have never cared for Japanese anime. I have never read Manga. I have never seen more than a glimpse of the original 1960s Speed Racer cartoon. I don’t have a jones for cars. But, surprise of surprises, I do love Speed Racer, the live-action adaptation of said cartoon. Directed by the Wachows
ki brothers (Bound, the Matrix trilogy), this is one of the best family adventures made in years. It’s a ripping action picture, a surprisingly potent family drama, and a visual wonderland that is literally unlike any other movie ever made.

A little plot: Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) is the oldest surviving son in a family of race car enthusiasts. Pop Racer (John Goodman, giving his best performance in years) builds his own race cars in the family garage. Mom (Susan Sarandon, also bringing her ‘A’ game) is the supportive matriarch. Spritle (Paulie Litt) is the hero-worshiping youngest sibling. Although Speed is quickly become a top-notch racer in the professional circuits, the entire family is still haunted by the death of the eldest son, Rex Racer, in a shady underground race several years prior. After an impressive performance, Speed and the entire family are propositioned by the evil tycoon Royalton (Roger Allam), who wants Speed for his races and Pop’s technology for his own industrial use. Disaster strikes when Speed turns down Royalton’s offer and the entire family must mobilize to restore their honor, bring down Royalton, and mend their own lingering scars.

As the previews promise, the entire world of Speed Racer is a candy-colored blast of visual nirvana (see it in IMAX if you can). The screen is filled with bold, bright colors, and the races unfurl at a breakneck speed that defies reality but always respects the rules of this particular universe. Jokes have been made about this movie resembling the video game series Mario Kart, and they aren’t completely off-base. Aside from the colors and the physics of the racing, the entire film has a swift swirly look to it, using montage in completely unique ways to quickly dispense exposition or flash back to pivotal moments without really leaving the present action. It’s hard to describe, but it works seamlessly. And no, this film will not cause motion sickness. Despite the lightning-fast races and the sheer physical momentum of the action, it is all blocked and staged in a way to maximize geographical clarity. We are not always supposed to know exactly what’s going on in every moment of the race (the opening race is more of a backdrop for character introduction than a relevant action scene), but when we need to know, it’s always crystal clear.

That the film would be visually spectacular is a given considering the pedigree behind the camera . Less expected is the top-notch acting, clever dialogue, and complicated storyline that never panders or talks down to kids. The film is intended as a family film, but it never sacrifices action, story and drama for that PG rating (it’s full of action, but with only enough violence and profanity to make kids think they’re getting away with something). Yes, the film is fast when it needs to be, but it is unafraid to slow down or quiet introspection or character development.

Story-wise, it’s a smart thing they do here. Knowing that the plot involving fixed races and white collar corruption is far too complicated for young kids to follow, the script has characters occasionally express their own confusion and then state in simpler terms just what’s at stake for them (“I don’t know anything about corporate crime. I just know they hurt my family, and I want to hurt them back.”).

All of the actors are in peak form, and it helps sell the drama immensely. Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, and Matthew Fox (as the mysterious Racer X) all have scenes that belong on a career highlight reel. Roger Allam has a long villainous monologue at the end of the first act that is a joy to listen to. By never winking at the audience, the film becomes a surprisingly moving family drama that makes the action count for more than just visceral movement. Especially when the main conflicts kick into gear, the non-racing scenes are every bit as watchable and satisfying as the main event.

Speed Racer works splendidly on all levels. It is a top-notch action picture with real emotional pathos and strongly developed characters. It is a visual landmark that is a joy to watch, yet it remembers to contain dialogue that is a joy to listen to. It is easily the best film of 2008 thus far (yes, it’s better than the under nourishing and overrated Iron Man), and it’s a surprising treat for the whole family.

Grade: A

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A new Mission: Impossible?

According to this Yahoo article, Sumner Redstone is attempting to get back in the Tom Cruise business. After famously 'firing' the actor from Paramount two years ago, Redstone is now claiming that he would welcome Cruise back to Paramount, especially if there was a Mission: Impossible 4 in the cards. The firing was complete garbage, of course. Cruise and Redstone mutually chose to not renew Cruise's production deal with Paramount months before the public 'firing' and Redstone simply used the issue as a power play against those above and below him in the studio chain (a bit of a simplification, I admit).

Since that time, neither party has done all that well for themselves. Paramount has copious egg on its face as a result of the Dreamworks merger/buy out and the HD-DVD mess. To boot, they built a can't miss summer slate that will net them almost no money (Iron Man is financed by Marvel and Indiana Jones 4 is financed privately by George Lucas). Aside from Tom Cruise's copious image issues, his somewhat ballsy attempt to reboot United Artists has been bumpy since inception. The underrated Lions For Lambs out-and-out bombed and Valkyrie has been moved from summer to fall to February 2009. At this point, they may need each other.

On the other hand, the idea of another Mission: Impossible is an appealing one. Each of the three films, warts and all, have been completely unique by virtue of differing and vastly different filmmakers.

The first (and best) Mission: Impossible was a Brian DePalma movie through and through. It still holds up as a stunningly low-key and moody summer tent pole film, a movie that captures the paranoia and loneliness of espionage in a way that surpasses even the first two Bourne movies (to say nothing of the terrible third Bourne film). The second entry was a goofy romantic epic that felt like John Woo was almost spoofing himself. Its reputation has not grown in stature, but it remains a lush, fun, epic action film. I'm not as much a fan of the third one, although I seem to be in the minority. J.J. Abrams' feature film debut cribs too much content from Alias and I had a hard time believing that these brutally professional spies would risk national security to save the wife of a fellow agent that they barely even know. Still, it IS a J.J Abrams film through and through (alas it feels more like seasons 3 and 5 Alias as opposed to seasons 1 and 2).

I love that each film is uniquely in the style of its auteur. I enjoy the franchise because it truly is a director's franchise. Frankly I couldn't care less if Cruise starred in these films or not. As long as each sequel allows a different visionary director to take a crack at the big-budget spy genre, it's a series worth keeping.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, May 5, 2008

Terminator 4 to be PG-13?

According to this Variety report, the new Terminator film (Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins) is actively gunning for a PG-13 rating. This isn't terribly surprising, and RL Shafer of DVDFuture correctly predicted this a month or so ago (gee, look who has a Speed Racer review up already... bah, at least I get to see it on Wednesday in IMAX) . It's considered a new trilogy, with none of the principals of any of the other pictures returning. Thus, I suppose, they believe they are starting over in a manner of speaking. The article claims that the rating will not be forced on them, but if a PG-13 is what they're actively attempting, then that's what they're gonna end up with.

The article mentions Live Free Or Die Hard as a sequel that used its lesser rating to increase its box office. I'm not sure how true that is. Adjusted for inflation, I'd guess that Die Hard 4 sold about as many tickets, if not less, than the predecessors (that's a question for Box Office Mojo or someone with a premier pass on the site). Regardless, Live Free Or Die Hard did well last year because it was much better than anyone was expecting. As it was, I was kinda shocked that Die Hard 4 got a PG-13 in the first place, since it was every bit as violent and brutal as the first three, albeit with less blood and less hard profanity.

By that standard, Terminator 4 can be as violent as it pleases and still probably slide under the R-banner. For the record, there are rumors that Terminator 3 actually had gore added to the final cut to get that R back in 2003. And to be fair, I have heard good things about The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and that has to contend with TV-levels of violence and gore (although it must be said that certain shows, like the CSI franchise, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and 24 would have a tough time pulling a PG-13 in theatrical release, be it for violence, gore, or R-rated subject matter).

It's interesting that, in the last two years, two of the standard bearers for hard-R action have apparently been neutered to the point of being acceptable for all audiences. Ironically, in some cases, an R rating can be a benefit. Especially in this post-Columbine and post-Lieberman trade commission age, R-rated mainstream pictures are almost a rarity, so actually going for that R can seem like a badge of honor. Most of the positive reviews for Rambo last January were at least partially based on the relief that the classic action franchise kept its R-rated mantle (with the insanely graphic content to prove it). And I'd wager that much of whatever excitement there is for M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening (June 13th) is directly related to it being M Night's first R-rated film. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Scott Mendelson

A stupid viral video and reclaiming the political narrative in 08


Seriously, people. This just makes Obama supporters (myself included) look stupid and childish. This makes Obama supporters look less like well-informed voters and more like idiotic children who like Obama because he looks and sounds swell (gosh, he's every bit as nifty as Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star!). Having said that, I wouldn't mind if it were funnier or more clever. Even as humor, it's not creative and basically is the level of parody of Date Movie or Epic Movie ('look - Obama is dressed like Luke Skywalker... that's funny!'). Senator Clinton is a rival Democratic senator who is also running for President. She is not Darth Vader. She's not evil. This is the kind of black and white thinking that got us two terms of Bush Jr (John Kerry is French! George W. Bush is a 'nice guy'). Yes, some of Clinton's campaign tactics have been less than honorable. But that's politics and she should be allowed to attack her opponent to the best of her abilities, especially if she keeps winning primaries.

Having said that, don't mistake my defense of her as approval for her strategy. Her main argument at this point is that she can successfully attack the GOP machine in November and can defend herself from like. Two problems with this - A) She has yet to really prove this, and she would be far more convincing if she had spent the last few months actually battling John McCain as opposed to her Democratic rival (Obama needs to shape up in this area too). B) This again allows the GOP to write the script. Who says that it's the GOP who gets to be on the offensive?

Who says that it's the Democrats who should be afraid of the Republicans? In this election, more so than the last two, it is the Democrats who should create the narrative. After seven years of near complete GOP control and the utter catastrophe that it has brought this nation, the Democrats have no excuse for being on the defensive. It is long past due for Democrats and progressives to reclaim the vocabulary of politics.

We can redefine patriotism as actions that better every citizen rather than empty words of admiration for an abstract. We can redefine morality, so that morals exist also in the boardroom, and the small business, and in the factories, rather than almost exclusively in the bedroom. We can expose the empty 'support the troops' slogan for what it is, as start to really fix our broken armed forces.

We can once again convince Americans that government can and should be a major force for good and for progress. But that's only if we do the job ourselves. And only if we stop seeing the other Democrat across the isle as Darth Vader. Hillary Clinton may not be your preferred Democratic candidate, but she is not your enemy.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The new Dark Knight trailer...

You can find this at the official Dark Knight website, as of about two hours ago. If your computer can handle it, just click on the link for a huge, gorgeous streaming version. But, for those with issues with streaming and flash, here's the new trailer for convenience (in much less appealing 'medium size'). For the record, for the completely uninformed about both the plot of this movie and Batman lore, there are at least two huge spoilers hinted at here, so proceed with caution.

Ok, now that you've watched, there are two big things that people are talking about. First off, we appear to see Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes) being pushed out a window to her death by The Joker. Even if this is her death scene, it'll be the least surprising surprise since Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side. Everybody and their cousin presumed that Rachel Dawes was being kept around in the sequel for the sole purpose of being murdered by The Joker at about the halfway point. This would be the ideal way to establish The Joker as a hardcore antagonist and to make the inevitable showdown between Batman and Joker as personal as possible. Say what you will about having Joker kill Wayne's parents in Burton's version, but it gave the final confrontation an immediate dose of twenty years of built-up pathos. Still, I'm kinda shocked that they are even hinting at Dawes' fate in the trailer.

Second of all, we see Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) being held face down on the floor while something (gasoline or acid) spills toward him. Later, we see a side profile Dent in a car, gun in hand, with just a hint of something very wrong with the other half of his face. This has caused much discussion on various sites and boards regarding just how Dent gets his face disfigured. Let me be frank on this. It doesn't matter one iota whether it's acid (like the comics), fire (like the 90s cartoon), or an allergic reaction to peanuts. These are the kind of nitty-gritty debates that make film geeks and comic geeks look stupid. If the transformation makes sense in relation to plot and character, then the minor details don't matter.

Nolan, Burton, Schumacher, and the Timm/Dini/Burnett team changed all kinds of little details in their respective Batman films and cartoons, and that's not why they succeeded or failed. Batman: The Animated Series radically altered the origin of Two-Face, both in the manner of his creation and who and what caused it, and that still stands as the best version of the character yet done. Batman Forever had an origin scene literally identical to the comics; right down to the ridiculous scene of Batman sitting in the back of the courtroom and leaping to Dent's defense. Yet that didn't excuse Tommy Lee Jones' over-the-top Looney Tunes miscalculation of a performance. It doesn't matter if Peter Parker has organic web shooters or mechanical ones. It doesn't matter if Wolverine is too tall. It doesn't matter if Kingpin is black. It's all about letting the movie do what it needs to do to work on its own as a movie. Period, end of story.

Scott Mendelson


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