Monday, August 31, 2009

House of Mouse buys House of Ideas (or Make Mine Disney)...

"First Disney/Marvel collaboration: Hannah Montana refuses to reveal secret identity, she goes to war with Iron Man. Iron Man wins easily." -- Brian Lynch

Some random, somewhat rambling thoughts about what may be the biggest film-related news story of the year...

Chud's Devin Faraci did a solid play-by-play bit as it was happening this morning. First of all, at this point, any and all licensing and distribution deals that Marvel has in place with Paramount, Sony, Lionsgate, Fox, or the like will be honored until their expiration dates (no wonder Sony has been desperate to get the next dozen Spider-Man movies into development). What is obvious is that Marvel either didn't trust itself as a stand-alone movie studio, or they were financially shaky enough to be in total peril should any of their big films (like Thor) out and out tank. Latching onto any major studio was a smart move for them, as spending Iron Man-type money for B-level projects (like Ant Man) was a recipe for eventual disaster. Having one of the big studios provides a cushion for the occasional whiff. I've chided Marvel in the past for this or that boneheaded play (forcing Sam Raimi to put Venom in Spider-Man 3, recutting Daredevil, spending $160 million of their own money on The Incredible Hulk and then gutting said film), but this new deal gives them the safety of actually being able to survive a truly awful situation (such as an out and out flop like Warner Bros/DC Comics Catwoman). From an artistic point-of-view, at the very least the idea of a Marvel/Pixar collaboration is beyond exciting (put any Marvel team with the Incredibles). And while Warner was never smart enough to let the DCAU gang (Bruce Timm/Paul Dini/Alan Burnett/etc) write the live-action DC scripts, Marvel doesn't have to make the same mistake. Free tip - let the Pixar gang write the scripts for the live-action superhero movies.

For Disney, the movie studio is just icing on the cake (which may or may not be good news for said studio wanting to fund exceptionally expensive superhero epics). The real money will come from the licensing opportunities. They will have the ability to infuse their theme parks with Marvel characters if they so choose. Or they can open a completely new Marvel Comics theme park if they wish. The possibilities are endless, especially once the other deals with the other studios expire (expect Fox to greenlight a flurry of sequels and reboots of existing properties). This also clears up any number of rights issues for the various Marvel Comics-based cartoons that the Disney-owned Saban put out on the 1990s. I'm guessing that the out-of-nowhere DVD release of the 1990s X-Men cartoon was some kind of peace offering or test run (at least this means that Disney DVD will actually release the whole series). So along with everything else, Disney gets clear sailing to release about a dozen animated series collections onto DVD as a bonus. I'm guessing the reason that Disney bought Marvel is the simplest one... they want the merchandising bonanza that comes from Marvel's flagship characters.

A big question is of course how this will affect the actual Marvel Comics content. This pretty much destroys any chances of any R-rated Marvel movies in the future (however slim those chances were in the first place), since Walt Disney only started putting out PG-13 films under their Walt Disney banner with the first Pirates of the Caribbean film in July, 2003. I'm sure the recently resurrected Touchtone distribution label (used by Disney to release R-rated comedies and action films) may play a role, but we'll see. I don't think Disney is dumb enough to meddle with the comic book material or the various spin-offs (such as video games), but that's always a danger. Because now that Disney owns Marvel, the various pro-censorship Focus On The Family-type groups can send out press releases touting some horrifying violence that happened on page 12 of last week's issue of The Punisher or last month's issue of Ultimate Avengers. Come what may, the acquisition of 5,000 often violent, occasionally sexualized comic book characters just makes Disney an even easier target for such rubbish. We'll see if Disney reacts to inevitable cheap shots. I'd like to think that Disney didn't buy Marvel for $4 billion just so they could tinker with it. On the other hand, will Disney allow the flagship characters for their new sub-company to run around in four-color land swearing, drinking, killing, and screwing if they think it will inversely affect their ability to sell t-shirts of said characters to people already suspicious of the 'Disney agenda'? Or worse yet, will Disney worry that Wolverine killing someone in a comic book might somehow affect the sale of a Mickey Mouse t-shirt? I'd love to be proven merely paranoid about this, but it'll be something to watch for over the next few years.

But overall this seems like a solid play for Marvel and Disney, and a huge blow to the allegedly cash-strapped Paramount (they also recently lost Dreamworks to Disney). The Mouse House gets the rights to pretty much every Marvel character, and the other studios may have to come to Disney for co-financing if costs for their characters' films can't be controlled (does Sony have a $1 billion or so lying around for the next three Spider-Man films?). This gives Disney a boatload of ready-made franchises to supplement the (nearly dead) Pirates of the Caribbean series and the National Treasure series. And as long as Disney doesn't meddle with the content, Marvel now has the cushion to build its movie empire as well as the ability to (theoretically) lose money year after year on the actual comics, Ala DC Comics and Warner Bros.

All of this is pure speculation, but I can't wait to see how this plays out. This is genuinely shocking and exciting news from every possible perspective (business, filmmaking, comics, etc).

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Final Destination 3D defeats Halloween II in the year's dumbest showdown. Weekend box office in review (08/30/09)

As expected, The Final Destination's franchise longevity, audience goodwill, and 3D gimmick overpowered the grim, painful, and much-distrusted Halloween II. Both had rock-solid openings and both lost out on about $7 million apiece by choosing to open on the same day. The Final Destination opened to $28.3 million, but surely could have reached $35 million without the direct competition. Halloween II pulled in $17.4 million but could have easily approached $25 million on a different weekend. I've heard any number of excuses (Warner scheduled early to reserve 3D theaters, Weinstein didn't want to delay in case Inglourious Basterds bombed and the company went under), but this is one of the stupidest scheduling jobs that I've ever witnessed. But I digress...

The Final Destination not only opened at about 25% higher than the last film in the series, but it had a shockingly solid (for a horror film) multiplier of 2.6x. Chalk this up somewhat to the 3D gimmick, which created additional interest and slightly higher ticket prices on the 1600+ theaters utilizing the extra technology. Other than that is the simple fact that this is a trusted franchise that delivers a specific ingredient (grotesque, Rube Goldberg-style death traps) and thus is comfort food for horror film fans. Frankly, the quick and over-the-top executions are safer and more enjoyable for many than the slow, painful deaths found in a Rob Zombie film or the later Wes Craven remakes. This is perfect junk for the horror fans who don't want to actually be disturbed on unhinged by the violence that they witness onscreen. They just want to gasp, jump in their seat, and laugh about it. Longterm prospects are up in the air at the moment, but a total of about $65 million feels about right.

Second-place went not to Halloween II but to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. The much-talked about revisionist history action thriller dropped a moderate 47% to end its tenth-day with a new total of $73.7 million. At this rate, it will easily surpass Pulp Fiction as QT's highest-grossing film and will end up the top-grosser in The Weinstein Company's four-year history. And, right or wrong, this will likely squeeze into the expanded Best Picture category should the fall lineup disappoint (Christoph Waltz is now a front-runner for Best Supporting Actor). But in terms of pure dollars, it's actually running neck and neck with District 9, which crossed the $90 million mark at the end of weekend three (by the end of last weekend, it was at $72.8 million). With a moderate 41% drop, this will also share that $120 million milestone with IG. It doesn't have the pedigree for major Oscar nominations, but a few deserving technical nods would not surprise me.

In third place, Halloween II had a more normal horror film multiplier, opening with $7.6 million and pulling a 2.3x of $17.4 million. Ironically, the reviews were surprisingly not super-duper rancid, with some critics giving Zombie credit for at least trying to make a real movie with actual ideas. This remake franchise is playing almost identical to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre redos. That franchise original opened with $26.5 million and closed with $80.5 million. The sequel (the surprisingly good Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning) opened with $18 million and closed with $40 million. This new Halloween franchise opened two years ago with a $26.3 million three-day opening ($30.5 million over Labor Day weekend) and ended with a more moderate $58.2 million finish (chalk it up to word of mouth and the more frontloaded nature of the business in general). So now this sequel, which is certainly a more ambitious picture, has opened to an almost identical-to-Chainsaw 2-weekend of $17 million. So expect Halloween II to finish at around $40 million.

In case you're wondering, this is the first time in just under two years that the top-four has comprised of four or more R-rated films. It happened in 2007 on September 7th to September 9th, and then again (with the top FIVE spots) on September 21st to September 23rd (thank you Hot Blog commenter 'Mysteryperfecta' for doing the research on that one). Next on the list was GI Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, which dropped a comparatively small 34% to end the weekend with $132 million. I have no way to quantify this, but I'm all-but sure that the small drop for this and other non-R-rated movies was due to the large number of youth-skewing R-rated films in the marketplace. For a hearty laugh, check out the weekend that Eight Mile opened in November, 2002. Draw your own conclusions, but all of the non-R-rated films all experienced inexplicably small percentage drops.

Speaking of Julie & Julia, that one dropped 15% ending for a $71 million total. This one might not make it to $100 million, but the inevitable Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep will put it over the top during the awards seasons. The Time Traveler's Wife benefited from the lack of romantic drama in the marketplace, dropping 37% from last weekend. It's new total is a solid $48 million. Also benefiting from kids theater hopping to restricted attractions was Shorts, which dropped just 24% from its underwhelming debut last weekend (new total - $13.5 million). The only other new opening was Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock. It grossed just $3.7 million, meaning that the $30 million production will be a financial bath for whomever was dumb enough to spend $30 million on this niche title. Once again, just because Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain grossed $80 million and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon made $128 million doesn't mean that every Ang Lee movie is going to be a breakout hit.

There's not much else to report. At $294 million, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is now the highest-grossing sequel in the Harry Potter series. It will cross $300 million by the end of this coming weekend or the weekend after. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is oh so close ($399.6 million) to becoming the worst movie ever to gross $400 million. The Ugly Truth crossed $85 million, (500) Days of Summer crossed $25 million, and Ponyo edges ever closer to a $200 million international take (at $11 million, it's now the highest grossing US total for a Hayao Miyazaki import). Join us next weekend when Sandra Bullock stalks Bradley Cooper in All About Steve (it's cute and romantic because it's a girl stalking a guy), Mike Judge finally makes a movie for someone other than Fox with Extract, and Gerald Butler discovers that he's merely a character in a video game in Gamer. Yup, summer is officially over, long live the awards season. Now we can get to what's really important... trying to keep up with the dozen or so new Oscar-bait releases each week and overestimating the box office potential of James Cameron's Avatar. Fun fun.

For reviews of The Final Destination (in 3D and D-Box mode) and Halloween II, trailer news, commentary, and much more, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

Review: The Final Destination 3D D-Box Experience (2009)

The Final Destination
81 minutes
Rated R

By Scott Mendelson

Like any number of horror films that spawned a franchise of gore-cartoon sequels, the original Final Destination was a real movie. It was a genuinely frightening little fable about grief, loss, and predestination. It had characters worth caring about and worth mourning when the grim reaper eventually came to collect his due. What's shocking about this fourth entry is the series isn't that it is basically a clothesline for which to hang grotesque Rube Goldberg-esque death scenes, it's that the movie makes absolutely no attempt to disguise its snuff-film intentions. Unlike even the lesser, more cartoonish sequels, this one doesn't even pretend that it's a movie.

A token amount of plot - Four friends (whom we learn nothing about over the course of the film) are attending a Nascar racing event when one of them gets a vision of a horrifying crash and resulting fire that will occur moments from now. Ushering his confused friends out of the stadium, several others are pulled outside in the confusion and thus saved from a fiery and/or gruesome death. But in the days that follow, the fatefully spared are swiftly picked off one-by-one in seemingly random accidents. That's pretty much it. While the first and third films involved high school graduates dealing with new found feelings of mortality and the second involved professional adults caught in the inevitable web of death, this fourth entry involves... I have no idea. While a few of the would-be victims are given a token character trait (one is a busy mother of two young boys, two others are blue-collar laborers whose wives died in the stadium), our four main young adults are given not a single fact about them. We do not know if they are in high school or college, we do not know if they have jobs. We never meet their parents or anyone outside their personal circle. They are absolute stick-figures to be gruesomely picked off. Only Mykelti Williamson registers any sympathy or intelligence. As a recovering alcoholic who killed his wife and daughter in a drunk driving accident years earlier, Williamson's character gets the film's only new idea (that of a fated victim accepting and welcoming his demise). But even his arc goes off the rails and fails to pay off in any meaningful way.

So, fine, the film is a barely written skeleton on which to hang the series's trademark death scenes, that may not be an issue to the target audience. But outside of the opening race-track carnage (which itself isn't nearly as frightening as the previous films' opening massacres), the death scenes lack both invention and skill. Ironically, the 3D effects means that many of the death scenes involve merely cgi gore instead of the practical effects and stunt work that has been a franchise trademark. And worst of all, two of the most impressive set-ups turn out to be giant teases. The film out-and-out cheats in several places as life-saving equipment fails at one moment but works at another for no discernible reason. There is no rhyme or reason to the set pieces and the pay offs are pale imitations of the previous pictures.

Overall, the film itself is an abysmal nothing. The characters are blank slates, there is no real running narrative, and the death scenes aren't worth sitting through. Some of the 3D effects are fun, but they are relatively run-of-the-mill and the film looks gray, hazy, and cheap when viewed through the 3D glasses. Frankly, if not for the 3D gimmick, I imagine this would have gone straight to DVD under Warner's Raw Feed banner. This certainly feels like a cheaper, lazier variation on the long-running series. Finally, the D-Box gimmick is currently just that: a gimmick. Yes, it's fun when your chair gently shakes, vibrates, and rocks back and forth during scenes of violence and action, but the full potential of this technology is still far away. But The Final Destination is not worth seeing in any format under any circumstances.

Grade: D

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Guest Review: Halloween II (2009)

Once again, trusted friend and horror-film expert Brandon Peters has offered to give us his take on another modern genre entry. This time, he saves me the trouble of having to run out and see Halloween II. This freed me up to sample The Final Destination, which was my wife's choice of horror for this weekend (terrible movie, but ok 3D and interesting D-Box effects). As always, thanks Mr. Peters.

Halloween II
101 minutes
Rated R

By Brandon Peters

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is a much more artistic, visionary and ambitious film than his 2007 product. While a much better film and a project Zombie clearly had more fun with, it is still highly flawed as it crutches itself on a few common horror film mistakes and stereotypical Rob Zombie character blunders. If anything, it is definitely one of the more entertaining Halloween sequels in a long time, as it is very different than anything fed to us before.

A token amount of plot: After a nightmare sequence, our story begins one year after the first film’s massacre. A now goth rock rebel Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is living with her self-sheltered friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) and her father, the Sheriff (Brad Douriff) in a house in the countryside of Haddonfield, IL. Everyone’s favorite doctor, Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) has shaved just his beard and left a mustache full of attitude, as he has pulled “Gale Weathers” and cashed in on the horrific events of the previous year with a top selling book. Meanwhile, Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), looking now like a giant-sized Rob Zombie, has been roaming the countryside waiting to strike again. When he has a vision of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) telling him they need to be a family again, he returns to Haddonfield in search of revenge and his sister, Laurie.

Before shooting the first Halloween, Rob Zombie contacted John Carpenter (creator and director of the original), and asked if he had any advice going into production. Carpenter wished Zombie good luck and to “Make it your own.” The first time around, Zombie mistook “his own” for overly brutal deaths and making the characters all white trash swear-a-holics. This time around, Zombie doesn’t totally grasp the concept, but is definitely on the right track. Halloween II is among the most artistic slasher films of all time. Surrounding the Halloween II’s brutal (yet less graphic) murders of dirty rednecks, Michael is guided by eerie visions of his mother guiding him along his path. Laurie too begins to share these visions; unaware of her familial links to Myers. Truth be told, the visions were the most interesting part of the film. While the common moviegoer and blood fanatic will probably laugh-out-loud or find them stupid, it is inarguable that they are a highlight. This is the ‘make it your own’ the first film needed. Said sequences are wonderfully shot and edited, and actually creepy. The highlight sequence being one set around a dinner table (it doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have too, it’s intended to be visually confusing). These scenes provide an eerie misunderstood element to the series, more than a big strong thug brutally shedding blood every ten minutes because his family was straight-up trailer trash.

The film is only 101 minutes, but probably could have been a much more effective at 80 minutes. There are two scenes of Michael Myers murdering random rednecks and one death scene (which includes a stereotypical “I gotta pee, I’ll be right back” kill) that should have been left on the cutting room floor. They do nothing to progress the movie or carry the plot (did the studio again mandate “more deaths please”?). The latter said death scene only makes for absolute confusion in relation to the story. Also, there is far too much screen time given to McDowell’s prick take on Dr. Loomis. If these things were cut out or trimmed down, there would be pretty good slasher movie here. The characters in this film are marginally improved compared to 2007’s Halloween. The returning characters almost provide for a doppelganger elseworld for the Halloween universe. They have all taken paths different than what was expected of them in the previous movies. The highlight is the father/daughter relationship and characterization of Sheriff Brackett and Annie. It’s very believable and actually well performed. They provide the film with characters that good horror movies often contain; ones that don’t deserve what happens to them. Thus, you don’t want said things to happen to them either.

Halloween II is a flawed but much improved Rob Zombie Halloween movie. Artistic as it may be, it remains a second rate slasher picture and a second-rate Rob Zombie film. Still, after nine Halloween films (excluding the Michael Myers-less Halloween III: Season of the Witch), this tenth entry is the freshest and most original take on the series. The ‘new’ additions will definitely disappoint a lot of modern gore hound horror lovers; the sorts who often don’t care for depth or substance. But for someone who has tired of modern slasher films, it was a breath of fresh air. Rob Zombie’s ultimate failure in the series as a whole is trying to answer the question “why does Michael kill people?” Michael Myers is far more terrifying when there is an absence of reason or just a slightly vague one (Halloween 5 and Halloween 6). Unlike the 2007 Halloween remake, I never felt like getting up and leaving at any point during the movie. Still, as a longtime fan, I hope Michael takes a nice five-to-seven-year hiatus before returning to us.

Grade: B-

Other tidbits:
-I thought Laure shot Michael in the face at the end of the first movie, but no damage is shown.

-I dig that Rob Zombie tried to do something other than the traditional mechanic suit for Michael. And a further deteriorated mask (part of Mike’s face is shown) is welcoming.

-Dropping the original score until the end was a smart move. It somehow erased what would have been some predictability.

-Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 star Caroline Williams and Margot Kidder (Superman) both have fun cameo roles.

-Character actor Silar Weir Mitchell (24 season 1, My Name is Earl) had a nice cameo which I found amusing, concerning Rob Zombie’s thoughts on people who fight over the age old argument “who is better Michael, Jason or Freddy?”

-I don’t ever want to move to Rob Zombie’s Haddonfield. No, it’s not Michael Myers I’m afraid of. It is all the rednecks, white trash, dirt bags, sluts and necrophiliacs (I’m not kidding) living there who terrify me.

-Dr. Loomis line: “Do you really think Michael is going to respond to hostage negotiations” was a very good line that I wish would have been applied to more horror films of the past.

-I don’t know if it was intentional, but some of this movie was very reminiscent of, and could stand as a remake of, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Descent part 2 gets a trailer. It's the same, but different.

It appears that Shauna McDonald is making a return appearance and Natalie Mendoza appears in some capacity. So I guess this means the original ending is no longer in continuity? That's a shame as it was a stunningly powerful finale to an awfully good fright flick. I honestly can't remember the last time a sequel actually included the 'part' suffix in its title. The first was, I believe, The Godfather Part II in 1974 (said sequel was also the first to use a roman numeral or even number the second chapter accordingly). Second of all, I'm almost amused at how Warner Bros. and co are basically acknowledging that this sequel is pretty much the exact same movie as the original picture. I was lucky enough to see the original in its original British form well before the theatrical release, and I enjoyed it as much as anyone else. This literally looks like a carbon. I'm not saying there aren't plenty of sequels that are basically bigger-budgeted remakes of their originals (Terminator 2: Judgment Day comes to mind), but the previews usually attempt to hide that fact. The shamelessness is almost endearing.

Scott Mendelson

Halloween II review coming soon...

Brandon Peters, the same friend who agreed to review the Friday the 13th remake back in February, has graciously agreed to contribute a review to this weekend's Halloween II. In the meantime, enjoy some relevant reruns.

My 2007 review of the original Rob Zombie Halloween picture.

An essay detailing 'The Tomb Raider Trap'. If history is a judge, even if Halloween II is actually a better film than the original, the film will still gross far less than the first film, simply because audiences no longer trust the brand.

And finally, an essay I wrote in anticipation of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, dealing with good sequels to mediocre or lousy originals. Needless to say, my hopes for Transformers 2 were ill-founded, but it's worth a gander regardless.

Until later, take care.

Scott Mendelson

The Men Who Stare At Goats trailer.

The trailer is a bit broad, but this is an interesting story, and the cast in terrific. It's always good to see Kevin Spacey in a character role, and anything that lets Jeff Bridges be funny is a good thing. Come what may, I still think it's wonderful that George Clooney still uses his stardom to get movies like this made. This is exactly how the star system should work. Oh, and the civil war in Darfur has kinda-sorta ended, so he's got that going for him too.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Variety trashes The Final Destination 3D...

No big surprise here, but Jordan Mitnzer of Variety absolutely tears into the fourth Final Destination film. As Joe Leydon is so fond of acknowledging, a lack of US press screenings means nothing to an international publication like Variety. This screening took place in Paris. Truth be told, if I were in Paris, I'd try to find something better to do than catch an early screening of The Final Destination (unless of course it would allow me to write-off the whole trip as a business expense). Come what may, I'll let you know what I think after the spouse and I see it on Saturday afternoon (no way in hell are we braving Woodland Hills-to-Hollywood traffic on a Friday night or Saturday night). The good news is that we've got a babysitter all set and the tickets already purchased. The bad news is that two D-Box theater tickets cost a whopping $46. Oh well, see above note about tax write-offs. I haven't paid that much for movie tickets since I took Wendy to the opening night of Dreamgirls at the ArcLight during their one-week exclusive engagement. It was absolutely a four-star presentation of a three-star movie, so hopefully something similar is in store this weekend.

Scott Mendelson

"Fox Studios would give Wolverine web-shooters and a bat cape!"

These Downfall parodies are getting really old, and I don't necessarily agree with all the sentiments within, but this is one of the sharper written 'climax in the bunker' mash-ups I've seen. It may not be a fresh concept, but it is funnier than most. Enjoy.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keith David as Dr. Facilier in The Princess and the Frog

I don't generally post making-of clips, but this featurette from Cartoon Brew is a delightful chance to see voice over mystero and all-around bad-ass Keith David doing his thing in the recording booth. What's interesting is that his turn as the antogonist seems to be a nice combination of his normal speaking voice and his 'Goliath/Spawn' voice. David certainly seems eager to join the ranks of Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), Jeremy Irons (Scar), and Tony Jay (Judge Claude Frollo) as a legendary Disney villain. Check out the teaser trailer and poster here.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Final Destination 3D to shake you silly at the Mann Chinese 6.

I heard this a bit ago from unofficial sources, but the Mann Chinese 6 Theaters in Hollywood, CA is indeed showing The Final Destination 3D in a single theater that is equipped with D-Box motion technology.  As long as you promise to make sure that my wife and I get our two afternoon matinee tickets (pending babysitter confirmation), here is the link.  The choice between The Final Destination and Halloween II just got a lot easier.

Scott Mendelson

Riddle Me This... When is Batman 3 news not really news?

Really, was there anyone out there who DIDN'T think that Chris Nolan might try to shoot all of Batman 3 in IMAX film with IMAX cameras? Point being, it's not exactly a shocker.  Oh, and in case you haven't heard, Megan Fox has been cast as Catwoman.  In equally plausible news, I've been cast to replace Health Ledger as The Joker (it was between me and Adrien Brody).  And Aaron Eckhart will be back as Harvey Dent, cause ya know, he's not really dead.

Scott Mendelson

Ted Kennedy - 02/22/32-08/25/09 RIP

According to CNN, Senator Ted Kennedy has passed away at the age of 77 from brain cancer.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inglourious Basterds rakes in $38 million while other openers crash and burn. The delayed weekend box office in review (08/23/09)

My daughter turned two just the other day. She said "Thanks for the book dad, c'mon let's play." "Can you teach me to read?" I said "Not today, I've got a box office weekend in review column to write." She said "That's ok." She walked away but her smile never dimmed. It said "I'm gonna be like him, yeah, You know I'm gonna be like him".

Oh wait... that's not what happened. Anyway, here is the delayed weekend box office review for the weekend of 08/21-08/23. For the record, as summer ends and segues into fall, I'll be doing these less frequently (expect a massive, multi-part summer movie wrap up sometime next week). There just isn't as much news with most of the weekends in September and October. But I'll discuss anything worth discussing and I'll try to get back onboard for the holiday season.

As everyone and their sister already knows, Inglourious Basterds scored a genuinely impressive $38 million over its debut weekend. While everyone else has been blabbing on the effect this will have on the struggling Weinstein Company, I frankly couldn't care less. First of all, Harvey Weinstein and Bob Weinstein are both very rich men, so they will be fine regardless. Second of all, had Weinstein Company collapsed, they likely would have ended up as a dependent for a major studio (Universal or Disney?) just like they were in the old days. The focus on prestige projects like Inglourious Basterds or Nine is somewhat disingenuous. At the end of the day, Miramax prospered thanks to cheap genre pictures like Halloween: H20 or Scary Movie. The Oscar race was purely a matter of personal pride and ego. Point being, if I'm right and they've been underselling Halloween II to bolster the continuing positive coverage of Inglourious Basterds, then they're shooting themselves in the long-term foot. But of course, whose brilliant idea was it to open those two back-to-back anyway?

But I digress. Inglourious Basterds now stands a shot at being profitable, despite the $60 million budget and inflated 2.5 hour running time. This is by far Quentin Tarantino's biggest opening weekend (Kill Bill volume 2 opened with $25 million back in April, 2004), and it has a shot at surpassing Pulp Fiction's $108 million final domestic gross and $212 million international gross to become his highest grossing picture. This is also a big win for Brad Pitt, as this is his fifth-biggest opening weekend. Amusingly enough, this is also Mike Myers's fourth-biggest live-action opening weekend, behind only the last two Austin Powers sequels and The Cat in the Hat. The most impressive thing about the weekend performance is that the film didn't absolutely collapse after Friday. Despite being very long, very talky, and very subtitled, the film ended up with a decent 2.64x multiplier. It opened with $14.38 million, dropped a reasonable 9% on Saturday ($13 million), and then just 19% on Sunday ($10.5 million). The film that audiences saw over the weekend wasn't anything like the one that was advertised, but said audiences didn't seem to mind in the least (it helps that the oddly crowd-pleasing finale contains most of the action bits from the trailers). Anyway, expect a hearty (around 50%) but not crippling plunge next weekend, and then a healthy run through fall as it becomes the grown-up movie of choice.

District 9 lost a decent-for-its-genre 49% in weekend two for an $18.2 million second-weekend and a $72.8 million ten-day total. The drop was as expected (good word of mouth helped cushion the blow of losing the teens to Tarantino and his bastards) and the film will likely make it to $100 million. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra became the alibi of choice over the weekend, as it dropped just 45% in weekend three. Chalk this up to two things - A) the movie is playing well with kids and families and B) kids are buying tickets to GI Joe and sneaking into the R-rated fare. So expect an even smaller drop next weekend as the there will be four major teen-targeted R-rated films in the marketplace. The third-weekend take was $12.2 million and the new total is just over $120 million. So $150 million is now a strong possibility. With booming overseas numbers as well, a sequel has already been greenlit. Yo Joe!

The Time Traveler's Wife took a hard (for its genre) fall of 47% in its second weekend, but the $39 million drama has already earned $38 million in ten-days. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you budget accordingly, grown-up dramas can be quite profitable. In a completely unrelated story, the $40-million-costing Julie & Julia has just crossed $60 million, with a third-weekend drop of just 27%. With holds like this, the film will make it to $85 million, and an inevitable Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep will push it over the $100 million mark. The next opener of the weekend, Robert Rodriguez's Shorts, tanked with just $6.4 million. While best-buddy Quentin Tarantino enjoyed the biggest success of his career, Rodriguez suffered the indignity of the studio dump. Sure Warner Bros opened this in 3,105 screens, but the advertising was minimal and the reviews were mediocre at best. Better luck with Machete.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is now within $1.5 million of surpassing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as the highest-grossing sequel of the series. At $290 million, it will likely cross the $300 million mark and then stop dead. Amazingly enough, this will be the third-consecutive Harry Potter sequel to outgross the previous installment. While various variables (inflation, IMAX, 3D, etc) can be factored in, one can only conclude that the eight-year old (!) series is actually getting more popular as it winds toward its final lap. Fox dumped Post-Grad ($2.6 million), and considering the reviews, Alexis Bledel ought to be thanking them. Finally, Ponyo dropped a decent 32% in its second weekend. With $8 million in the US bank and a $192 million global take, I'm guessing the whole is a $16 million US total, which will push the international gross past the $200 million mark.

That's all this weekend (does anyone really care that G-Force is at $107 million and The Ugly Truth is at $82 million?), the real fun is next weekend, when the year's stupidest battle royale occurs. Behold as The Final Destination 3D and Halloween II cannibalize each other and cost each of them a respective $10 million on their opening weekends. Surely someone at Warner or Weinstein Company could have flinched for both of their sakes?

For a review of Inglourious Basterds and more, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson


Does anyone out there know if Warner Bros. is attaching a teaser/trailer for the Nightmare On Elm Street remake to prints of The Final Destination?  I know they showed footage of some kind at Comic Con and Warner won't have a more appropriate launching pad than this weekend.  I haven't heard anything, but they'd be stupid not to take advantage.

Scott Mendelson

Inception trailer

This is obviously a pure teaser, showing next to nothing in the way of plot and character.  But you know what?  I don't care.  Chris Nolan is currently the most exciting mainstream filmmaker working today.  And, as wonderful as his Batman pictures are, I like his other work even better.  As a HUGE lifelong Batman fan, someone who loves the first two Burton films as well as Nolan's two Batman pictures... The Prestige is still my favorite Chris Nolan film. I remember when I first bought my HDTV, I used the Prestige DVD to experiment with the colors and what not (prior to buying a PS3) because it was the most recent film I owned. Anyway, every time I toyed around with it, I'd find myself watching huge chunks of the movie. Between the Batman pictures, The Prestige, and Memento, well, if Insomnia ends up being his worst film, that will be a hell of a career.  So tease away, for Mr. Nolan has more than earned my trust.

Scott Mendelson

Kudos to smart career choices - Megan Fox to host the 35th season premiere of Saturday Night Live.

According to Life and Style, Megan Fox is set to host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live. As someone who feels that she's been unfairly maligned in the media for bluntly acknowledging basic truths about how females are treated in Hollywood, I'm glad to see she's branching out just a bit. Potential typecasting victims Jon Hamm and Zach Efron scored major (deserved) huzzahs for their hosting gigs last year, so it'll be fun to see if Fox can rise above the sometimes spotty writing. And because I know that the Jennifer's Body star gives a flying rat's ass about what Mendelson's Memos has to say, here are some quick tips to increase the likelihood of a successful show:

1) Do not play yourself. You're doing this partially to prove that you can act when given the opportunity, and part of acting is playing other people. Dwayne The Rock Johnson pretty much began his eventual movie career by offering this simple instruction for his first SNL hosting gig - "No wrestling sketches". He was willing to wear a tutu, he was willing to make a complete fool of himself, but he refused to basically play himself in any wrestling sketches. He's now one of the very best reoccurring hosts. Point being, do not do what's expected of you.

2) If at all possible, avoid the question-and answer opening monologue. Unless you're Christopher Walken, this isn't going to be funny. It will be badly costumed cast members asking the most obvious, unfunny questions leaving you to give lame, scripted answers. Once again, unless you're Chris Walken, you cannot do this and maintain dignity. And if you're forced to do this bit, please make sure that every question isn't some horny nerd propositioning you for sex. It won't be funny and it will show the usual lack of imagination that cripple these opening bits.

3) If you must do a Transformers sketch, wait till the second half of the show. Normally I'd say avoid a Transformers sketch in general. But Efron used his High School Musical character as a springboard for a bloody hysterical sketch about plummeting educational standards, so I can't veto the idea completely. But hold off any sketches based around Transformers or Jennifer's Body until after Weekend Update. If the show up to that point is funny, then the audience won't care about a one-off miss. If you're already tanking, then it won't matter either way.

4) It's your show. At the end of the day, you can't blame the writers if the hosting gig tanks. You have one advantage: no one expects you to be funny. Maybe it's because of the 'attractive women aren't funny' stereotype, or maybe it's because you're best known for your physical attributes, but you now have the same trump card that made hosting gigs by John Malkovich or Patrick Stewart into winners. Because of who you are, every joke that scores is now twice as funny because you're the one you made it. Make sure that the sketches are written featuring you, or that you're a supporting player in the ones that work. Don't be labeled a Nancy Kerrigan or Paris Hilton by having the sketches be written around you, giving you little to do and say. Be in a position to take the credit for a hit or a miss. And you're going to take some critical hits regardless, simply because pundits and gossip columnists won't want to admit it if the young actress that they spent all summer calling a whore and an idiot turns out to be intelligent and witty.

So good luck kid. I may hate your movies, I'm not all that attracted to you, and I have no idea if you can actually act, but your candor in interviews and the resulting blowback by the gossip world and entertainment press has earned my grudging respect. And, of course, if you can get Tina Fey to come back and participate in a sketch involving videotaped car washes, well, then you'll be my hero (and if you can get Seth Meyers to participate, then my wife will highly approve).

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More to come...

Real-life got in the way this weekend (all good news). I'll be back late tonight or early tomorrow with a weekend box office review, the usual news and commentary, and the wonderful story of why Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs at a second-run theater was one of my favorite movie-going experiences of the year (hint - it involves who I brought along).

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thoughts on 'Avatar Day'

For the record, the 6:00pm showing at the AMC Promenade 16 went as smooth as could be. I entered at 5:45pm, got an arm-band that I didn't even have to put on (the sticky part pulls at my arm hair), got a 'buy a drink and get a free popcorn' coupon, and waltzed into the theater. A Fox rep entered at 6:00pm on the dot, said a few words, then immediately started the seventeen-minute presentation. If only press screenings were this punctual and convenient.  And to top it off, the AMC gave out 'buy a soda and get a free popcorn' coupons, offered patrons the opportunity to see an evening movie at matinee prices, and Fox allowed viewers to get limited time access to the December 18th 12:01am showings.  All in all, a very well-structured and classy job by the theaters and Fox.

First of all, James Cameron has got to stop raising the expectation level. It's the job of rival studios and brainless, colluding gossip columnists to inflate expectations to the point where nothing can meet them, not the director's. Every time he talks about Avatar as a 'game changer' or 'the next advancement in moviegoing', he damages the eventual word of mouth of his picture. Special effects and 3D-advances aside, Avatar is a big-budget science-fiction/action-adventure/romance from the guy who made The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies, and Titanic. That's quite a marketing hook by itself and that's ALL Cameron and Fox should be bragging about.

Ok, having said all that, how was the footage? From a technical stand-point, it was occasionally breathtaking. But here's the thing... at the end of the day, no matter good the special effects work is, when you set an entire movie in a fantasy world with fantasy world, your eyes will occasionally tell you that what you're seeing isn't real because it cannot be real. My favorite special effect in Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was actually the capes worn by Grievous's guards in the opening battle scene. I could have sworn those capes were real cloth blended with CGI robots. Because I believed something as simple as the cape, the entire action set piece had a whole new level of believability.

Thus, the imagery that theoretically could be real (the opening scenes involved man and machines) looked absolutely photo-real. As for the obviously animated stuff (the various landscapes and fantastical creatures), it wasn't entirely convincing but it did look beautiful. And visual poetry is going to have to be enough for the hardened moviegoer. But even the footage that was obviously 'fake' still had a solid physical weight and realistic feeling of placement, time, and space that stood alongside the best work in the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What about the 3D? Well, here's the real problem for Cameron and company. The very thing that makes it special is its immersive nature. Thus, when it's really cooking, you're not sitting there in awe because you're not supposed to be acknowledging how impressive the 3D actually is. At it's best (and the 3D in the second scene, the 'creation sequence', is the most impressive), you really don't notice how incredible the work is until you stop and realize how not in-your-face blatant it is. This isn't intended to be dreamlike 3D that you notice at every moment (think Polar Express or Coraline), but rather the sort that works because you don't notice it. Animated films such as Monster House, Meet the Robinsons, and Up have pulled this off already, but this is a new standard for live-action 3D.

But the biggest problem that the film faces has nothing to do with its generally remarkable special effects work or its often breathtaking and immersive 3D imagery. No the biggest problem that the film faces is that it feels like a hodgepodge remix of several other films. I've previously made comments regarding the overall narrative strongly resembling that of Battle For Terra (another animated film that had solid 'don't notice it' 3D work), but the footage seemed to crib just as much from Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves. A friend of mine noted after seeing the trailer, 'It's like Apocalypto in space!" For a movie that's supposed to be a revolutionary game changer, the biggest obstacle is that the overall story is striking many as warmed-over rehash.

For more movie reviews, trailer reviews, news commentary, and essays, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, August 21, 2009

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" gets a trailer.

It's good to see Congress being picked on as much as former-president Bush. Yes, this all started on Bush's watch and most of the recent blame belongs squarely to him, but Obama and the Democratic Congress (stimulus package aside) haven't exactly been a Keynesian when it comes to fixing this 30-year Reaganomics mess.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds
150 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

There's an absolutely fantastic 110-minute thriller hidden beneath the somewhat bloated 150-minute Inglourious Basterds. Two things save the picture from its over-length and Tarantino's now infamous need to have characters ramble on. First of all, unlike the dreadfully dull Death Proof, the never-ending conversation is used in several major scenes as a way to build suspense and tension. In the frighteningly effective prologue as well as several other moments, the non-stop babbling is used as a weapon and an instrument of fear. Most of the chit-chat belongs to Christoph Waltz, who plays the would-be villain of the picture. As a 'Jew Hunter' personally dispatched by Hitler to find hidden Jews, Col Hans Landa uses the art of allegedly sophisticated conversation to draw out the moment, to further intimidate his would-be victims.  Truth be told, in terms of screen time and impact, Waltz is truly the star of this film. And yes, it's ironic that a revisionist fantasy about Jewish American soldiers terrorizing Nazis is in fact stolen by the Nazi. It's a star-making turn and I'll be shocked if Waltz doesn't receive an Oscar next year.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Wolfman trailer.

I'm not sure if the world really needs another wolfman movie (I rather liked Mike Nichols's Wolf). But if we're going to get one, it might as well be a visually scrumptious period piece directed by Joe Johnston and starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. Hugo Weaving has been off our screens for far too long, and Hopkins is always more fun when he's playing around in genre pictures (The Silence of the Lambs, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Mask of Zorro). This won't reinvent the horror genre, but it should be a bloody good time.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Shorts (2009)

89 minutes
Rated PG (for mild action and rude humor - should have been a G)

by Scott Mendelson

Shorts is a gloriously old-fashioned kids flick made with a knowing cleverness. The picture is fast-paced, funny, colorful, exciting, and absolutely appropriate for children while entertaining for adults. Shorts is no classic, but it clearly does not want to be. It aims purely to be a breezy and pulpy children's adventure film, no more and no less. Robert Rodriguez again proves himself a jack of all trades, as his family pictures (Shorts, the Spy Kids series) are every bit as imaginative and often more entertaining than his R-rated action pictures (the Mariachi trilogy, Planet Terror, From Dusk Till Dawn).

A token amount of plot: told in seemingly random chronological order, this picture is a series of shorts concerning the discovery of a magic wishing rock and the effects it has on the town of Black Falls. While the stories generally center on the youngsters of the town, the inexplicable rock soon begins to have most unexpected consequences for the adults as well. Can Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett) use the rock to bring his parents (Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann) closer, while keeping the bullying Helvetica (Jolie Vanier) and his older sister (Kat Dennings) at bay? Can Nose Noseworthy (Jake Short) use the rock to cure his father's (William H. Macy) crippling fear of germs? And what effect will the rock have on the president of the town's leading company, Black Box (James Spader), who is desperately trying to make his 'do everything' Black Box gadget into the must-own vanity item? All these questions and more will be answered should you decide to dive into the wonderfully weird world of Shorts.

What's most refreshing about Shorts is its lack of pretension. It is a kids flick through and through, but it's an awfully good one. As you'll notice from the above synopsis, the cast is filled with talent, all of whom are relishing their chance to play in this particular sandbox. The only qualm is the lack of pretty much any and all Rodriguez vets, as even Danny Trejo is nowhere to be found. Still, everyone is game and their presence does wonders to elevate the simple fable. As always, this Robert Rodriguez film is cheerfully low-budget and cheap-looking in the best way. The special effects are gloriously hokey looking, which only adds to the old-school appeal. And like the Spy Kids trilogy, there are no real villains. Yes, there are antagonists who do bad things, but there is redemption and mercy for all. The seemingly random order of the stories allows kids to discover the relatively simple callbacks on their own, and some of them are genuinely funny (a lost homework assignment provides a great pay-off).

Despite or because of its shoestring budget and overtly innocent intentions, Shorts works as a perfectly charming film for the whole family. It works both because of what it does not contain (violence, profanity, any hint of sexuality) and what it does contain (charming characters, a clever narrative, witty dialogue, and eye-poppingly goofy visuals). Watch Shorts with your kids, or just borrow someone else's kids to give yourself a proper excuse.

Grade: B


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