Friday, October 30, 2009

"You're lucky I'm retired." Fox previews season 8 of 24.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Avatar trailer 02.

This is an uncommonly long trailer, clocking in at 3:20. The model for this piece is obviously the first trailer for Titanic and the last trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; both exceptionally long trailers that basically told the whole story in broad strokes. While the first teaser emphasized sci-fi and hard action, this one goes for epic sweep only going into action mode as James Cameron's credits are read off (notice the omission of The Abyss). The last trailer was about the wonder and the hard-action. This one is obviously selling the relationships, the machines vs. nature conflict, and the overall scope of the adventure at hand. And, since we know now that the movie will run around 165 minutes, we know that there is plenty of 'wow' moments that we haven't seen yet.

The film does look entertaining and visually stunning (this trailer doesn't hard-sell the razzle-dazzle factor as much as the teaser), and Cameron has never failed to deliver. But, at the end of the day the story just feels too familiar, seeming like a blended cocktail from (among others) The Battle For Terra, Dances With Wolves, Star Trek: Insurrection, Ferngully, Pocahontas, and Delgo (and a short story called "Call Me Joe"?). I sincerely hope to be wowed or at least satisfied, and I've heard good things from sources I can't reveal, but the key will be how soon Fox starts screening the movie. Anything later than right after Thanksgiving (so they can let the New Moon hype die down) may be a sign of trouble. Anything earlier than Thanksgiving means they know that James pulled it off again.

Ironically, for all the hub-bub about the film's cost (around $230 million), this is the first time in 20 years that James Cameron has not broken the record for the most expensive movie of all time. The Abyss may have unofficially broken that record back in 1989 (the official budget was $50 million, but I've heard as high as $80 million), and each successive film broke said record (Terminator 2: Judgment Day - $100 million, True Lies - $120 million, Titanic - $200 million). But with any number of films hovering at the $250 million mark and at least a couple at or near $300 million (Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), James Cameron no longer sets the budgetary standards. Although Cameron can likely claim the record for the most expensive non-sequel in film history.

Scott Mendelson

This Is It opens with $7.4 million Wednesday.

My apologies, apparently the 'early estimates' this morning at 10am were just wild guesses.

The Michael Jackson documentary This Is It opened with $7.4 million, including $2.2 million from Tuesday night advance showings. Since this release is relatively unprecedented, there is not much we can look to for clues for the full opening five-day total. But expect a HUGE (60% or more) plunge for Thursday, as the die-hards went on Wednesday and the generally curious can wait until the weekend.

Amusingly enough, the insane predictions from AEG that the film would do $250 million in five-days has come back to bite them in the butt. See, here's a lesson we learned from Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace... when you tell people that every screening is going to be packed and/or sold out, the casual moviegoer is that much less likely to venture out in the first days of release. Sure enough, the softer than expected overseas numbers are being blamed on the stories of alleged sell-outs and packed theaters. Free tip to AEG: always underestimate your box office predictions.

The frontload-factor should be pretty high, but the fact that this was released in the middle of an October school week may prop up the weekend numbers just a bit. We won't really have a genuine idea of where this is going until the Friday numbers roll in (and Saturday night being Halloween won't help either). But I can probably tell you that the opening day-to-weekend multiplier will probably be somewhere between the 2.75x for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which would put the This Is It five-day total at $20 million) and the 11.01x multiplier of Shrek 2 (which would give the MJ documentary about $81 million). Place your bets accordingly.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DVD Review: Ruby-Spears' Superman (1988)

Ruby-Spears' Superman
Not Rated
309 minutes
Available on DVD from Warner Home Video on Tuesday, November 3rd.

Right smack in between the end of Super Friends and the beginning of Superman: The Animated Series lies the relatively unheralded 13-episode curiosity known simply as Superman. Produced by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Man of Steel, the cartoon ran on Saturday mornings on CBS for but a single season. Intriguingly, these episodes were specifically based on the recent ret-conning of the Superman comic titles that story editor Marv Wolfman had just spearheaded along with John Bryne. So this is the rare superhero cartoon that is specifically based on a certain era of the comic book, for whatever that's worth. If you remember the show at all, it's probably for two reasons. First of all, it was the first animated or live-action Superman adaptation to present Lex Luther as a Donald Trump-like billionaire as opposed to an underground mad scientist. Second of all, each episode had a charming little book-end that told a four-minute story about young Clark Kent's childhood, from his adoption by the Kents in the pilot all the way until the his debut as Superman in the final episode.

As for the episodes themselves, they are notable only as a time capsule in the slow maturation of superhero animation. It was certainly better animated and more action-packed than the Super Friends or even Super Powers cartoons. However, it pales in comparison to what came just a few years later and it remains the sort of 'no one grows, no one changes' storytelling that dominated most animated television in the era (only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually had even a semblance of story progression and long-form continuity). The voice acting is pure 80s-cheese and there is next to no real peril in any of the adventures. Still, the artwork is bright and colorful, and the show makes decent use of the John Williams theme in its opening credits. If you simply haven't seen these in twenty-years or you're a DC animation completest, this might be worth picking up. But these aren't anywhere near as artistically inspired as the 1940s Fleisher cartoons nor are they as sophisticated and engaging as the 1996 animated series.

Considering the age and theoretical lack of interest in this series, the video and sound quality on the two-disc set is surprisingly solid. Colors are bold and pleasing, while the audio is always clean and audible. English and French subtitles are available on each episode. Aside from trailers and previews, the sole special feature is a 13-minute featurette entitled "Corruption of the Corrupt: The Rise of Lexcorp". Oddly enough, the first half of this piece presents a succinct and dead-on synopsis of the rise of deregulation and corporate greed (and the motives and psychology behind it) that began in the 1980s and climaxed with our current economic woes. Yes, this documentary on a DVD set for a forgotten kids cartoon lays out the path to financial ruin better than Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story.

This certainly is not worth owning unless you're a die-hard Superman completist, but it might be worth a gander for a look back at the baby steps that animated television was taking right before the early-90s explosion (Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, Gargoyles, etc). It certainly was not bad for its time and its editorial limitations, but it's simply been exceeded by what came next.

The show - C+
The Video - B
The Audio - B
The Extras - C

Note - for a detailed episode guide, check out the always superlative Superman Homepage.

Invictus gets a trailer.

While the idea of Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela seems like a painfully obvious choice with irresistible appeal, this still feels like an underdog sports movie where the team realizes that they aren't just playing for themselves. Clint Eastwood has been on an insanely strong winning streak since 2003 (even The Changling was a strikingly engaging B-movie melodrama), so I can't imagine this one being any less than entertaining. Still, for a movie that is supposed to be the Warner Bros Oscar front-runner, this one appears to be coasting on the reputation of those involved. It goes wide on December 11th.

Scott Mendelson

Green Zone gets a trailer.

I have not read the original book and this trailer may very well not be indicitve of the final product, but this sure as heck looks like Jason Bourne goes to Iraq. I am not a Paul Greengrass fan, having disliked United 93 and loathed The Bourne Ultimatum (it's a remake of The Bourne Supremacy, but dumbed-down and sexed up). The somewhat unique editing style that served him so well in Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy has now become cliche. Besides, what exactly is going to be the big twist in this one? That (shocker) there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? If you can see only one white-knuckle thriller set in Iraq, you should still see The Hurt Locker instead. I'll gladly admit if I'm wrong on March 12th, 2010, but this feels like Body of Lies all over again.

Scott Mendelson

Review: This Is It: The IMAX Experience (2009)

This Is It: The IMAX Experience
112 minutes
Rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

There is no getting around the obvious exploitation factor at play. Regardless of how tasteful and respectful this film is, at the end of the day, Sony paid $60 million for the rights to this otherwise private footage because they wanted to cash in on the sudden and shocking death of its star. But if you can dissociate the material from the motive for its production, Kenny Ortega's This Is It works as a low-key farewell to a generational icon. As a Michael Jackson fan in the 80s and early 90s, I had always hoped that he could get his musical act together and go out with a dash of style (truth be told, he hadn't released a truly good album in nearly twenty-years). The underlying tragedy of this documentary is the realization of how close Jackson may have been to getting the comeback that his fans were yearning for.

A token amount of plot - the feature basically spans the last couple months of Jackson's life, detailing the rehearsal sessions for his upcoming 50-concert comeback tour that was to be his probable farewell to live performing. We see about a dozen songs, performed in clips from a few different rehearsals, with token tidbits of behind the scenes footage and previews of what would eventually be the multimedia supplements for each song (ie - 3D zombie movies for "Thriller", a mini-movie with Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart for "Smooth Criminal"). What is most impressive is how strictly the film adheres to its business at hand. There are no side-stories, only a few brief testimonials, and nary a hint of the ultimate fate of this concert that everyone was so proud to be a part of. The vast majority of the running time is all about the production and rehearsals that went into the would-be tour itself. The only sentiment comes from Michael Jackson himself, as he occasionally opines about the state of the environment.

However interesting this stuff is as a time-capsule, the fact still remains that this is rehearsal footage, and thus you're not seeing Jackson at his peak, or even giving it his all in any given performance. He mentions several times that he's trying not to tax his voice prior to the actual performances, and his dancing is often half-hearted at best. Intentional or not, there is a disturbing undertone at play, as we wonder whether the forgotten song lyrics, physical hesitations, and sometimes underwhelming performance was merely the product of the rehearsal process, or an accidental glimpse of a 50-year old musician struggling to perform like the 25-year old who changed the world half a lifetime ago.

Still, if the King of Pop is no longer the young man who first moon-walked at the Motown 25th Anniversary Celebration in 1983, he is certainly willing to cede the occasional spotlight to those around him. Some of the best footage involves the back-up singers and musicians who got to live out their dream of performing with their idol. In fact, since much of the footage is the standard video quality, the core appeal of the IMAX format is getting a chance to really listen to the actual music that inspired a generation of young artists ("Beat It" has a killer guitar solo that's up there with "Johnny Be Good" or "Purple Haze"). And Jackson certainly seems grateful to the talent that he has at his fingertips, and his few attempts to be a stern taskmaster come off as comical.

Whether or not the motives behind this picture are pure (director Kenny Ortega seems genuinely interested in honoring his friend), This Is It remains an interesting curiosity that avoids both tawdry sensationalism and lionization (no mention is made of either his personal life or his untimely death). But there is also a clear lack of any kind of illumination to who Jackson really was. Even during private rehearsals, he still seems 'on', so don't expect any kind of unguarded moments or epiphanies about this deeply private man. Whether or not This Is It needs to be seen in theaters is an open question, but it's certainly a must-own DVD for the most devoted Michael Jackson fans. Me? I'll stick with my CDs of Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad, preferring to remember him during the period when he was truly the king of pop.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have apparently seen The Cove...

Blu Ray Review: Orphan (2009)

123 minutes
Rated R
Available from Warner Home Video on DVD, Blu Ray, On Demand, and ITunes download

by Scott Mendelson

Orphan puts so much care into its construction that it's that much more unfortunate when the narrative foundation collapses under its own weight. The film (and it does strive to be a film) is exquisitely shot, wonderfully acted, and imbued with a genuine sense of dread and tension. As a straight-up scare fest, it's quite effective. As a piece of trashy pulp fiction, it struggles with a desire to have three-dimensional characters and dramatic weight versus the urges to give into the tawdry demands of its genre. But come what may, the picture is a brutal horror flick. The film may not reach the lofty ideals that its European pacing and high-toned cast suggests, but it scares, startles, and surprises with ruthless efficiency.

A token amount of plot: Following a stillborn birth of her would-be third child (and the resulting alcoholic breakdown that followed), Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) have done their best to keep the family together, and they have decided to adopt an older child from a local orphanage. While Kate is introduced to the available children by a kindly nun (CCH Pounder), John comes upon an isolated and oddly independent nine-year old from Russia. Since those who want to give love understandably target those who might need it the most, the family is drawn to this loner and decide to give her a home. Needless to say, young Esther's world-weariness and almost supernatural timing leads to suspicious circumstances and alleged peril for the rest of the Coleman clan. Although John is seemingly oblivious, Kate immediately notices that, to quote the film's marketing hook, 'there is something wrong with Esther'.

That's all you need and that's all you get. What sets this one apart from other mainstream horror films is the quality of the acting and the leisurely pacing. While most horror films hover around the ninety-minute mark, Orphan dares to slowly unfold its narrative in just over two hours. What makes the film work is that it does not fall into the trap of having Kate become a variation on 'no one believes the truth except me'. The story's cruelest trick is that there are probably more people in the story that do see the danger but are prevented from doing anything about it. The second-half skirts the 'idiot plot'. By the third act, John's belief in his adopted daughter's innocence is downright inexplicable. The picture depends on the somewhat reasonable paranoia of those who suspect vs. the plausible fear of those who know but stay silent. If there is a lesson to be taken from Orphan, it is that parents should have long, serious talks with their children about 'good secrets' vs. 'bad secrets'. For the record, the incident that occurs around the hour mark qualifies as a 'bad secret'.

Despite the somewhat contrived storyline, Orphan is a resoundingly jolting scare-fest. The long running time allows for ample character development and director Jaume Collet-Serra makes sure to pay it off for the thrill-seekers. The finale contains both the best plot twist of the year and at least one genuinely cruel story turn. The film doesn't shy away from realistic violence and feels no qualms about putting children in peril. This is easily one of the better 'evil children' movies, even if it pales in comparison to The Children or The Omen. Orphan is an icky and disturbing little movie. If that's your cup of tea (my wife loved it), then by all means dive right in.

The Blu Ray

While the extra features are relatively skimpy, what is offered is worth digging into. The fifteen-minute making-of featurette spends a token amount of time dealing with the film's production before taking a detour into the history and psychology of evil-children films of the past. It's not terribly substantial, but it is fun. The only other special feature of note is a four-minute selection of deleted scenes. The 'chilling alternate ending' is worthless, as it constructs a completely different finale but doesn't show us the ground work for that said new ending (you'll understand when you watch it). But the other three scenes are all downright terrific and all should have been included into an already lengthy movie. The first shows the Coleman family actually being happy together, something missing in the gloom-filled final cut. The other notable scene is a brief moment that tosses off exposition that is dealt with later in a manner that suggest we should already be familiar with it. There is also a PSA that states that the movie is not based on any real cases of foreign adoption while pleading with viewers to consider adoption as a family choice. It's at the beginning of the disc and cannot be accessed once you're into the Main Menu, which is probably for the best.

The Movie: B
Video: B+
Audio - NA
Extras - C

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Saw VI (2009)

Saw VI
91 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

With Saw VI, we see the surprising sight of a long-running franchise trying to dig itself out of its own grave. Clearly intended to either be the final Saw film or at least a finale to the second three-film arc, the picture goes out of its way to tie up loose ends, retroactively explain awkward story points, and sweep away dead weight. By once again returning the focus to its core dilemma ('how much blood would you shed to save yourself or others?') and its key character (John Kramer once again takes center stage), this sixth chapter inexplicably works as a solid horror film and a skewed morality tale. Most tellingly, Saw VI is actually almost good enough to make you glad that the series didn't end after Saw III.

There will be no plot synopsis, other than to say that the film again picks up right at the end of the previous film, and that the surviving characters all return. First of all, I can't imagine anyone jumping into the franchise sight unseen at this point. The fans are either already invested in the long-running John Kramer mythology, or they don't care a whit about plot. Newbies will be absolutely confounded, as the series makes the fifth season of Lost look easy to follow. Second, one thing I have appreciated about the series is that, because of the complete lack of preview screenings, and the spoiler-free marketing campaigns, the Saw films are among the few major movies that I can go into relatively blind. I'll give you the same courtesy.

What makes this film work better than the previous entries is that both of its narratives are compelling and genuinely suspenseful. That's right, for the first time in history, a Saw picture actually has tension and suspense. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all, the lingering plot threads from the previous series are dealt with in a subplot that has Jigsaw accomplice Detective Hoffman desperately attempting to cover his tracks following his murderous actions in the last two pictures. While Costas Manylor is not the world's most engaging screen presence, the plot does place him in the always entertaining position of a lawman being forced to investigate crimes that he actually committed. Second of all, the trap-related portion of the film takes the franchise in a whole new direction. Unlike previous films, where Jigsaw targeted drug addicts, general lowlifes, and police officers who just plain cared too much, this time John Kramer targets a specific industry (health insurance) and the film lays out a specific philosophy (let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if someone snuck Harry Reid a copy of the film over the weekend). While John Kramer never explicitly endorses single-payer health care in the several flashbacks, the film certainly stands against the bureaucracy that is our current system. While the film's moral world is as fuzzy as ever (the film does not believe that all innocent bystanders are equal), it's genuinely disturbing to catch yourself actually rooting for Kramer purely because of political and moral agreement.

Best of all, for arguably the first time in the series, pretty much every trap has the distinct possibility of survival for at least one participant, creating palpable suspense over who will live and who will die. By putting multiple people in peril each time around, the picture gets to have its cake (characters are truly forced to make choices) and eat it too (traps do go off so you get your cup o' gore). And, like the superior Saw II, the threat from the traps is a quick and brutal death, rather than slow and painful violence. There is plenty of gore (more than Saw V, but less than Saw IV) and a token amount of suffering, but the film never lingers on the carnage longer than it has to. And the film benefits by once again putting John Kramer (the invaluably classy Tobin Bell) at the heart of the narrative. By making this set of traps uniquely personal and mainly keeping Hoffman in a different subplot, the film amazingly creates the illusion that you're watching Kramer himself running the traps this time. That's no mean feat for a character who died three films ago.

Saw VI still has many of the problems that have plagued the series from the get-go. The moral worldview of the franchise has always been completely absurd (characters are supposed to learn lessons from their experiences, but many are either killed or traumatized beyond repair) and the film spends too much time flashing back to previously unseen moments from the prior sequels. But even that crutch is more effective this time around, as we see the return of familiar faces and the retroactive explanation for story turns dating back to the very first film. If you're not a fan of the Saw franchise, this film probably won't make you one (for one thing, it's impossible to follow if you haven't seen every prior film, preferably twice). But it's a breath of fresh air for those who had followed the series since the beginning, a return to the series basics of insidiously clever traps and solid character actors squaring off (Peter Outerbridge gets several good scenes with Tobin Bell as an old friend of John Kramer and his wife). If this is to be the last chapter, it's nice to see the game ending on a high note.

Grade: B+

Separating the film from the icky motives.

I'll probably be at the 9:30pm IMAX showing of This Is It tomorrow night at the walking-distance close AMC Promenade in Woodland Hills. It's partially because it's the rare shot to write an early review for a major movie without having to trek out to Santa Monica or Hollywood during rush hour (and it's well after my daughter has gone to bed). Truth be told, as a long-ago fan from the 80s, I'd actually be far more interested in this if Michael Jackson wasn't dead. It might very well be an interesting rock documentary, a fun look inside the work environment of a very private entertainer. but the obvious exploitation at work cast a pall over what otherwise might be enjoyable fluff. Still, the film is news and what's actually in it will be worth noting. But I just hope I don't feel too dirty walking out of the theater. If I do attend, expect a review sometime Wednesday morning.

Scott Mendelson

Sherlock Holmes poster.

I still think that the trailers are trying way too hard and Downey Jr. seems to be on auto-pilot, but this and Avatar seem to be the only real big guns of the late holiday season. Rachel McAdams usually avoids big-budget franchises and Jude Law has to prove that he can still entertain us ten years after The Talented Mr. Ripley, so those will be the two to keep your eyes on. The word at Warner seems to be relatively positive. Come what may, I doubt they would have all-but-greenlit a sequel already if it were anywhere near as bad as it looks in the first and second trailers. Maybe it's not so extreme after all? Here's to hope...

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, October 25, 2009

As usual, Russ Feingold is right on health care and right on Afghanistan. No public option = viable reason to oppose healthcare reform bill.

Underdog horror film crushes sixth chapter of formally underdog horror film series. Weekend box office (10/28/09)

In a somewhat shocking turn of events that played out like a season finale of a television series, the long roll-out of Paranormal Activity peaked with a wide-release debut that handily crushed the opening weekend of the long-running Saw franchise. This may not be the end of the fall box office season (next weekend has the wild card Michael Jackson documentary This Is It), but it is surely its climax. Do not weep for Jigsaw and gang, for they will be back. Even at a whopping 50% opening weekend loss, the fifth sequel will be profitable in short order (it only cost about $12 million). Bitter irony that this sixth chapter was actually a marked improvement over the last two sequels, but fan backlash over the exceptionally lousy Saw IV and Saw V combined with direct competition to provide a brutal, if not mortal, wound. Like most stories of this nature, the facts are more complicated than the headline.

In what may be some of the best marketing of the decade, Paramount took an $11,000 home movie that they originally intended to shelve and remake with bigger stars and production values and has turned it into the must-see horror film of the year. After several weekends of expansion and increased box office figures, Paranormal Activity is now the number one movie in America. Expanding from 760 screens to 1,945 screens, the low-budget chiller scored $21.1 million, for a new domestic total of $61.5 million. Assuming the film doesn't completely collapse after Halloween (a plausible possibility), Paramount has a shot at getting this thing to $100 million. How did this happen? There are two specific reasons, in my opinion. First of all, the brilliant whisper campaign, including the 'write to Paramount now to get it to come to your town' gimmick, made people feel like they were discovering the film on their own and thus had a personal ownership in its success. Audiences are always fonder of films that they feel they discovered of their own accord, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding or The Sixth Sense, and this makes the sharing of word of mouth into a personal crusade. Second of all, the film worked on two distinct levels. If you liked the film and found it scary, then you'd certainly rave about it accordingly. However, even if you didn't like it, viewing the film in a packed theater is genuinely entertaining as you get to watch everyone else in the theater freak out on cue.

Even as someone who didn't like the movie all that much, I know for a fact that the younger, less busy me of years past would have loved to drag some of my more easily frightened friends along in order to watch them shriek and squirm. And what better date movie that something absolutely guaranteed to cause major bruised-forearm action without grossing anyone out? Regardless of my feelings about the film, it is genuinely working on general audiences as an out-and-out party movie, something to be viewed in as a communal experience in a giant theater. I've said this before, but there is irony in that this was made possible partially by the recent high-profile date changes of Shutter Island, Up In The Air, and The Lovely Bones, which left Paramount with nothing better to do than hype their would-be cult find for most of the fall season. Further ironic is that this 'un-Hollywood' horror flick and its impact with audiences was greatly enhanced by a re-shot ending, suggested by Steven Spielberg himself, that was in fact far more traditional and 'mainstream' than the original finale. Still, whatever my misgivings about the current rags-to-riches narrative regarding the film's success, it IS a massive success and everyone involved (including the actual filmmakers, who accomplished quite a bit for so little money and resources) should be congratulated.

But, in another irony, the triumph of Paranormal Activity is seemingly less worthy of celebration than the sound defeat of the long-running Saw franchise. Whatever your thoughts on the series (for the last time, it's not torture porn), let us remember that it too began as a low-budget horror film that was doomed to be sent direct-to-DVD before a successful series of midnight screenings (sound familiar?). So while I take pleasure in the surprising success of Paranormal Activity, I refuse to take any joy in the potential crumbling of the Saw series. First, let's accept the blunt truth: faced with its first horror film competition since the series debuted in third-place against the second weekend of The Grudge and the opening weekend of Ray, the Saw series has taken a massive opening-weekend nose dive. The series debuted with $18 million, and the sequel surprised a year later by crushing The Legend of Zorro and debuting at number 01 with $31 million. For the next three years, no one was surprised with parts III, IV, and V all opened above $30 million. But this year, the sixth Jigsaw adventure opened with just $14.1 million. Since this series usually has terrible weekend-to-total multipliers, expect Saw VI to struggle to even reach $40 million before going to DVD around January of next year.

What happened? Well, first of all, let's ignore those who are exclaiming that America just suddenly up and got tired of the series. It's actually slightly more complicated. From the second film on, the series has owned the pre-Halloween release date. No studio has dared place another horror film in the way of the Saw freight train, and had things gone according to plan, Saw VI would have again been the only horror film around for those wanting a pre-Halloween scary movie. The obvious fly-in-the-ointment was the inexplicable rise of Paranormal Activity, whose limited release numbers far exceeded even the most optimistic projections. Had Paranormal Activity expanded with a little less vigor, Paramount might very well have waited until October 30th to roll out the national expansion. But the iron was blindingly hot as of two weekends ago, so the studio had to take a chance and get the movie into national release while the press was still foaming at the mouth. On top of that, the Saw franchise had been floundering with its retroactive continuity that struggled to maintain itself in the wake of Saw III, which kinda-sorta killed off the lead villain in its climax. With probable backlash from the direct-to-DVD-looking Saw V, horror fans decided to try out something different this weekend and the series suffered for it.

But make no mistake, had Paranormal Activity not exploded in those early limited-release weekends, we'd likely be mentioning it in brief while discussing another $25-30 million Saw opening. The lesson that Lionsgate must learn is pretty simple: the series has remained uncommonly and consistently strong partially because of the lack of horror competition. Now that the myth of invincibility has been shattered, studios will be flooding the market with horror films come next October. So the best thing that Lionsgate can do is not panic, but remember that as long as the films keep their budget at below $15 million, then they will still be profitable for years to come. And since the sixth film is truly better than the previous two sequels, then expect a slightly better weekend multiplier than the series standard (Saw V and Saw IV had 1.8x and 2.0 multipliers). Plus, the smaller than normal box office take will lead to a larger than normal rental business (since any fans who skipped out in theaters are that much more likely to rent it in January). Point being, Saw VII in 3D is still heading our way next October, but now the series is in the inexplicable position of being the underdog once more.

The other openers all flopped. Amelia, the critically reviled Amelia Earhart biopic, debuted with just $3.9 million on 820 screens. The near-$4,761 per screen average isn't bad, but it's all downhill from here. I take no joy in this failure either as the film seemed to be an old-fashioned biopic without any particular need to juice up history. Besides, Hillary Swank deserves kudos for having maintained a solid career without ever feeling the need to play the token female support for any given A-list stars. Be they triumphs like Million Dollar Baby, B-movie fun like The Core, or misfires like The Reaping, Hillary Swank is almost always front and center in her films when so many other actresses have been forced to stand behind a man. Astro Boy, based on a classic 1950s Japanese comic book, opened with just $6.7 million, proving once again that Summit is going to be in serious trouble once the Twilight franchise ends. There have been rumblings about them trying to get purchased by one studio or another, and I'd suggest they try to get sold sometime soon after the opening weekend of New Moon. Even when their movies are good (I rather liked the smarter than expected P2), Summit just doesn't have the marketing muscle to sell unknown quantities to moviegoers. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant tanked with $6.3 million. Chalk it up to a marketing campaign that tried too hard to resemble Twilight (it's not alone), and a kid-friendly story that should have gone with a PG instead of a PG-13. Either way, this one had no business costing $40 million.

The holdovers performed as expected, with one minor exception. Where the Wild Things Are dropped a steep 57%, as general movie goers were divided over the emotionally draining tone poem. At $53.5 million, the $85-100 million production will likely crawl to $80 million at the very least. Foreign business will probably be a boon to the somewhat artsy production, and those that love this film absolutely worship it and they'll be sure to buy the DVD or Blu Ray and show it to friends and family for years to come. This would-be classic will play forever and Warner Bros will eventually see a profit on their courageous investment. Law-Abiding Citizen dropped just 41% for a ten-day total of $40 million. The $50 million production should make it to at least $60 million in domestic grosses alone. Once again, if you make star-driven, B-movie thrillers for adults (and budget them accordingly), adult moviegoers will show up. The Stepfather remake inexplicably dropped just 46%, which is downright stunning considering the competition. Its ten-day total is $20 million, now equaling its production budget.

That's all for this weekend. Next weekend is a shockingly light weekend, with just This Is It opening wide. For a look at what happened at the box office last year, go here (to watch me blow my box office guesstimates like never before or since, go here first). For a look at the best in direct-to-DVD horror, go here. Otherwise, for more box office, movie reviews, trailer reviews, news commentary, and original essays, go to Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What the Old Dogs campaign gets right...

What I like about the Old Dogs campaign is that Disney is selling only the archaic, Loony Tunes-ish chaos, rather than harping on the (theoretical) warm and mushy morals about responsibility and family. Maybe the film is all comic pain and suffering, maybe there is no schmaltzy last act where everyone learns a valuable lesson and/or Robin Williams discovers that his newly discovered twins are the pieces that he's been missing from his life all these years. That would be a welcome change of pace, but we'll see for sure soon enough. In the meantime, good on Disney with being content to just sell the laughs.

Scott Mendelson

I pity the fool who tries to pay the A-Team with a credit card...

That's an awfully amusing cast photo, and I'm genuinely shocked at Liam Neeson's appearance as he looks more like George Peppard that I would have imagined possible. I was never that into the old show, mainly due to the absolute lack of suspense. See, the bad guys (to my recollection) never murdered anyone and we all knew the A-Team couldn't rack up any homicides as they were already on the run for a bogus murder charge. IE - the show very well couldn't have ended with them clearing their names but then having to answer for any bad guys that had been blown up, shot, thrown out a window, etc during their 'soldier of fortune' years. Speaking of which, would it kill director Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smoking Aces) to actually include a scene where the A-Team actually bills a client for their services? The opening narration specifically states that you could hire Hannibal, Faceman, Murdoc, and Baucaus, but I don't recall them ever actually accepting any payment for saving the proverbial day. And in these economic times, I doubt a group of fugitive soldiers can afford to partake in too much pro-bono heroics.

Scott Mendelson

I want to play a game: It's called 'stop whining about the Saw series'.

So the very early estimates are in, and the wide-release debut of Paranormal Activity (1,945 screens) appears to have defeated the opening weekend of Saw VI. Ironically, the long-running series has appeared to have fallen victim to the 'Tomb Raider trap', as the sixth chapter is allegedly a marked improvement over the last two sequels (my wife and I usually see these on opening day as a tradition, but real life got in the way). Frankly I was shocked that Saw V opened at near $31 million last year, as pretty much everyone detested the fourth chapter. So Saw VI opened with only $7 million (about 50% down from the $14 million opening days of Saw IV and Saw V) while Paranormal Activity added another $7.6 million to its stunning run. Unless Paranormal Activity collapses after Halloween (a reasonable possibility), it will have a solid shot at crossing the $100 million mark. The Saw series, while wounded (this will likely be the smallest opening weekend in franchise history), is still a relatively low-budget tentpole series that can more than weather a hit or two. I'd be shocked if Saw VI cost even $15 million, so even a quick-collapse and $35 million final gross will still be quite profitable, especially when overseas and home video is counted in. Theoretically, the fewer fans who went to a theater meant that the more who will rent it on DVD in January.

So fine, the series has finally shed a little blood six films in. About $3-4 million of that lost $7 million can be directly attributed to demographic and genre competition, something that the Saw series has not faced since 2004. But can we please stop whining about how the Saw franchise is somehow contributing to the destruction of modern society? First of all, it's not actually torture porn. Not a single person actually gets tortured in a Saw picture. Yes, some characters suffer for a few minutes before death in any given Saw film, but that's not torture and that's commonplace in any number of horror films (by that definition, Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy or Psycho are torture porn films). You want true torture porn? Rent the 'adult and sophisticated' Diane Lane vehicle Untraceable. That film revels in long, painful death scenes where victims are slowly bled, burned, or electrocuted for hours and then tells us that we're evil for wanting to watch.

As far as rotting society's fabric, let's look at a quick list of things that the Saw series is not responsible for... Jigsaw did not tell us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, resulting in a years-long foreign occupation that has perhaps permanently destroyed the moral character of an entire country. He did not coerce people to buy varying-rate interest mortgages that they could not afford, he did not drive up the price of oil via speculative trading, he did not deregulate the entire financial industry, he didn't loosen the rules for media ownership, he did not create or enforce Don't Ask Don't Tell, he did not out an undercover CIA agent for political gain, he did not subsidize corn products to the point where nearly every single manufactured food has some form of corn, he did not commit white collar crimes that cost Americans billions in financial devastation, and he did not delay the federal response to hurricane Katrina in the hopes that the press would blame the sitting state and local government. Oh, and John Kramer didn't kill the Lindbergh baby, Chandra Levy, or Jonbenet Ramsey. And he absolutely did not leak a DVD work-print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine a month before the release.

Now here are some positive things that the massive profits of the Saw franchise have brought us - consistent work and unimaginable fame for Tobin Bell, several years of successful blood drives each October, and the production and/or distribution of 3:10 To Yuma, Akeelah and the Bee, Away From Her, The Bank Job, Battle For Terra, Bug, The Cove, Crash, The Descent, Lord of War, Sicko, The US vs John Lennon, and W. And those are just my favorites. The Saw series is a flawed but ambitious horror franchise with a somewhat conflicted moral compass. Period. It does not teach kids to kill, it does not warp impressionable minds, it does not contribute to any real suffering that goes on in the world. So stop whining because in thirty-years film scholars will be discussing Saw with the same adulteration that we now discuss A Nightmare On Elm Street and/or Halloween.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, October 23, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon clip - all snuggied up and ready for battle.

First of all, why is Summit releasing a clip that apparently occurs at the end of the film? And second of all, what's with the outfit choices, Eddie? Because when your girlfriend is being wooed away by a charismatic, bare-chested muscle-bound Native American who can turn into a werewolf, nothing puts the fire back into your relationship like showing up in a snuggie.

Rep Alan Grayson schools the House of Representatives on the Constitution.

If he keeps this up, he may end up running for president in 2016.

Season of the Witch teaser.

First of all, as you'll notice the second you watch this, Season of the Witch has no relation to Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Having said that, what a fun little teaser. The film looks a little lower-budgeted than I'd expect, but it's good to see Nicholas Cage giving in to his inner-nerd yet again. Ron Perlman is always a treat, and what fun it must have been for Cage and Christopher Lee to sit around comparing Wicker Men. Lionsgate puts this one out on March 19th, 2010.

Scott Mendelson

The Wolfman trailer 02

This isn't quite as impressive as the first trailer, but the movie still looks like oodles of fun. I could do without the heavy metal music, but this obviously feels like more of a teen sell than the initial trailer. The film remains refreshingly adult, both in its casting and its period-piece tones. Despite his reputation as a serious actor, Anthony Hopkins really is at his best (and seems to be having the most fun) when digging his teeth into pulpy material (The Silence of the Lambs, Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Mask of Zorro). Both trailers seem to be stressing Anthony Hopkins as the villain, so I can only wonder if the real culprit is Hugo Weaving (or Emily Blunt?). The Wolfman remains one of films I'm most looking forward to in 2010. It comes out February 12th and sounds like the perfect Valentine's Day date movie.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apparently people want to confide in Viola Davis...

The Oscar-nominated, exceptionally talented, and always-welcome Viola Davis has two new projects lined up. See if you can spot the pattern.

Funny Story centers on a clinically depressed 15-year-old who checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward where he gains a new lease on life. Davis will play the psychiatrist who helps him understand his anxieties and provides him with the help he needs.

Trust revolves around a family who must deal with the ramifications after their 14-year-old daughter is victimized by an adult who gained her trust posing as a teenager on a chat room. Davis will play the counselor assigned to the girl’s case.

Toss that in with the social worker/jail-house religious leader that she played in Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, and it appears that Ms. Davis is on her way to becoming the go-to actresses for tough, but empathic mental healers. I suppose that's better than playing the mayor in Law-Abiding Citizen, where she had about ten minutes of screen-time and spent nearly all of them scolding Jamie Fox and proclaiming general helplessness.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The 10 Best Modern 'Direct-to-DVD' Horror Films.

Last Halloween, I took you on a tour of the worst horror films that my wife had forced me to watch over the years. This year, I'm staying positive. Even before the HD boom allowed pretty much everyone to become a filmmaker in their back yard, low-budget horror was always considered the easiest way to attempt to break into the film business. As a result, there has always been a glut of horror titles filling up the shelves at your local video store. 99.9% of these are utter garbage, often shot on the lowest-quality video with the complete absence of talent and production values. But every so often, something truly worthwhile sneaks into the wasteland. And with the major studios currently spending most of their big-screen horror dollars on watered-down remakes and amped-up reboots, one must truly venture into the forbidden zone to find their original horror fix. Here are the best of the worst, straight-to-DVD horror films that genuinely deserved to go to theaters and are actually superior to most of what Hollywood calls mainstream horror in this day and age.

Two notes... First of all, some of these films may have been intended for theaters, originated overseas, or had a token theatrical exhibition in festivals or dollar-theaters due to contractual obligation. Second of all, if you see certain studios making up the majority of these picks, well let's just say that Disney doesn't exactly release a lot of these and Warner Bros' Raw Feed has yet to produce a true winner. So, without further ado (in alphabetical order)...

2001 Maniacs (2005)
Originally intended for theaters, this robust horror comedy (actually a remake of a forgotten 1964 film) easily puts most theatrical 'dumb kids get lost and butchered' movies to shame. Shot on film and containing genuine production values, this whacked-out gorefest concerns a group of college kids who stumble upon Pleasant Valley, a southern town that seems to have never left the post Civil-War reconstruction era. Of course, as soon as Robert England shows up as the mayor, you know that this isn't just a recreation but something more sinister. Unlike so many in this genre, you actually get what you paid for. England is having a blast, the actors are actually movie-star attractive, there is gratuitous nudity galore, and the deaths are genuinely creative, completely grotesque and over-the-top gruesome. This one is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.

From Within (2008)
By far the highlight of the third After Dark Horror Fest, this one is directed by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. So it's no surprise that this elegant tone poem looks absolutely gorgeous. It's actually shot in 2.35:1, which is a rarity for any horror film. From Within is basically Saved as a horror picture. On the surface, it's a moody spook story about a rash of suicides that grip an enclosed bible-belt community. Steven Culp, Rumer Willis, Margo Harshman, and Adam Goldberg are the recognizable faces, and they provide support to the three relatively unknown leads (Elizabeth Rice, Thomas Dekker, and Kelly Batz). The pay-off isn't as promising as the set-up, but there is a genuine sadness and a willingness to take its subject matter farther than a more mainstream title would dare. This one is about character and mood, and the scares come because we genuinely care about those in peril.

Another French import, this was intended to play as part of Lionsgate's second After Dark Horror Fest, but it was pulled when it did not receive an R-rating. Imagine a variation on Hostel, but in French, genuinely disturbing, and absolutely pitiless in its depiction of human cruelty. This contains some of the most realistic and stomach-churning violence I've ever seen. But even when the gore quiets down during the second act, the film turns into a whacked-out variation on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This may not be high art, but this is a painful, terrifying cinematic experience that absolutely delivers the gruesome goods.

À l'intérieur (American title- Inside) (2007)
This French import became something of folklore when its unrated form was trimmed by over eight-minutes for its R-rated Blockbuster format. Over the last two years, the film has become a popular 'can you take it?' challenge from one horror fan to another. The premise is simple enough; a young pregnant woman is attacked by a crazed woman who wants a child of her own. But the tension and brutality never lets up for the tightly paced 83-minute running time. This is a savage and painful viewing experience and is not to be recommended lightly. But if you can handle it, or you want to test yourself, this is a truly disturbing motion picture.

Mega Snake (2007)
This is a slight cheat, as this actually premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel about seven months prior to its DVD debut. But my list, my rules. Unlike pretty much every other straight-to-DVD monster movie (I'm looking at you Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus), Mega Snake actually gives the viewer what they paid to see. There's a giant snake, you see the snake quite a bit, that giant snake kills lots of people onscreen, and said homicides are rendered in spectacularly gory fashion. For the token amount of production values, adequate acting, and actually delivering what it promises on the box, Mega Snake is mega-awesome.

Midnight Meat Train (2008)
We all know the story about how this Clive Barker adaptation was sacrificed at the altar of Lionsgate's artistic aspirations and dumped in a handful of second-run theaters. But is said movie actually any good? Well, it's another entry where production values exceed storytelling prowess. The film cost $15 million and looks like $50 million, and the cast (Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, and Roger Bart) is top-notch for the genre. The main problem is that the film shows its hand far too early, so you spend much of the second half simply waiting for the inevitable. Still, the film is shot in glorious widescreen and contains more than enough moments of shocking violence and gore. It's an ambitious horror picture in a genre that often lacks ambition.

Midnight Movie (2008)
Midnight Movie is one of the best low-budget direct-to-DVD slasher pictures yet made. It's shot on film and looks it (the opening scenes are striking to those used to the grainy, grimy video images found in this genre), and the acting is at least adequate. But the big difference is that this variation on the old 'let's watch this legendary horror film that is shrouded in mystery' is actually pretty scary. The murders are savage and violent, and the masked killer is actually frightening, both in appearance and behavior (he moves quickly and doesn't bother to toy with his victims). The narrative avoids the 'idiot plot' whenever possible and the pay-off is surprising, if somewhat illogical. This is simply a rock-solid, old-fashioned scary movie that happens to have debuted on DVD (and eventually Blu Ray).

Murder Party (2007)
This amazingly well-written comedy is both satirical and affectionate towards the low-budget horror genre. The plot basically concerns a mild-mannered fellow who decides to attend a gathering that's advertised on a random flyer as a 'murder party'. What kind of idiot attends a murder party? That's just one of the many questions that get asked in this deliciously clever and verbally witty little yarn. No fair spoiling what happens at the party, but you'll be amazed at just how unimpressive it really is. This is a film that revels in the utter lameness of its characters, even as said losers inexplicably grow on you as the film progresses. The film eventually gives in to its horror roots, but even that is skewered in a bitterly condescending look at the kind of people who see art and 'truth' in everything and nothing.

Simon Says
First of all, don't let the cover fool you. Blake Lively is in this film for about 30 seconds. The real lead is Margo Harshman, who is really making a go of it as a scream queen in the years after Even Stevens (she's also in the slightly better than expected Sorority Row). This is basically another 'dumb kids go into the woods and get slaughtered' movie. The production values are mediocre at best, and it's not a very good picture. So why is it on the list? Two reasons: first of all, Crispin Glover is completely over the top in a performance that's almost like a parody of straight-to-video horror villains. Second of all, this film contains, hands down, some of the most creative and complex onscreen kills that I've ever seen in a horror film.

And now, the very best direct-to-DVD horror film of them all...

The Children (2008)
First of all, this is the best 'evil child' movie ever made. Released just weeks ago as part of a four-film Ghosthouse Underground series, this British chiller rules the roast with thoughtful, well-written characters, a slow sense of building menace, and a terrifyingly plausible premise that compliments a polished and stylishly directed motion picture. The story is simple: while on vacation, two couples realize that their kids just aren't acting like themselves. No one is possessed by or spawned from the devil. No one kills because they were born evil. No one is tormented by the ghost of their unborn evil twin. The reason for the behavior change is never explicitly revealed, but the film seems to imply that it was something as ordinary as food poisoning. The horrifying violence that is eventually unleashed is all the scarier because it could theoretically happen. This film takes its time setting up character and story before the mayhem, which is course renders what comes next all the more effective. While the film works splendidly as a suspense thriller and an old-school horror film, it tops this list for more than just that. The Children is not the most violent film on this list, nor is it the goriest or the showiest. It plays like a drama for much of its running time, and it haunts because it boils itself down to an unanswerable question: would you kill your own sick child to prevent them from killing you?

And that's a wrap. I'm sure there are some that I haven't seen that might have been worth including, so feel free to toss off a recommendation. Everyone have a happy Halloween, and if you're wondering why Trick 'R Treat isn't on the list, it's because in the immortal words of Jay Sherman, it stinks.

Scott Mendelson

If you're not watching Community, you're an idiot.

The single best scene so far this television season, with my favorite quotable line of the year (around 0:58). Despite competition from 30 Rock and the often unintentionally hilarious Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (how are Benson and Stabler not fired and/or in jail by now?), Community is really the funniest thing on NBC.

Scott Mendelson

Shredder no Shredding! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles move to Nickelodeon.

According to Variety, Nickelodeon has just purchased the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise for $60 million. This seems like a no-brainer as this 25-year old franchise absolutely cannot be killed. Despite hitting its peak in the late 80s/early 90s, with a terrific initial feature film and one of the greatest video games ever made, this empire still remains a popular favorite of kids and overgrown kids. We're still getting new mediocre cartoons and new terrible video games (that Super Smash Bros wannabee was a sick joke). Just as the Disney/Marvel deal was about getting to make T-shirts with Spider-Man and Mickey Mouse together, this deal is about seeing lunch boxes with Michelangelo and Spongebob Squarepants (or, slightly more awesome, Shredder and Swiper plotting together to steal the newest Dora-Oats or whatever in a cereal commercial).Here's hoping that Nick can do more for the franchise than 4Kids Entertainment and Mirage Group was able to accomplish.

Yes, this means that Paramount will be attempting another live-action TMNT adventure for 2012 (apparently, Paramount will be hitting up Dora the Explorer for a loan). Good luck to them, the first picture is still one of the best comic book films ever made. It's well-acted, well-paced, surprisingly dark and violent, and contains two spectacular action scenes (the apartment ambush and the climax). Sam Rockwell more or less made his feature debut as one of the head teens in the Foot Clan. Judith Hoag is both funny and hot as April O'Neil, and Elias Koteas, one of my favorite character actors, got his big break as Casey Jones, the hockey-mask wearing vigilante. And thanks to its general lack of topical pop-culture references and popular songs on the soundtrack, it's become a relatively timeless classic.

The franchise is also contains something of a rarity... Michaelangelo is the only character, other than Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, to successfully use nunchucks in combat during an American action picture. On the plus side, maybe, just maybe, Warner Bros will exploit this new version by putting out a half-way competent special edition of the original four adventures. Because that cardboard pizza case just didn't cut it.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Look familiar?

A coworker pointed this out to me. The right is the new cover for the Lionsgate Blu Ray of Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark, which will be released on November 24th. The left is the theatrical poster for Twilight. First of all, notice how Jenny Wright looks completely human while Adrian Pasdar looks quite Edward-esque (if you've seen the movie, you know that's not quite how it goes). Second of all, why are they basically hiding Lance Henriksen as far away as possible? Cute guys, really cute. Thanks to for the composite.

Scott Mendelson

Jackie Chan's The Spy Next Door gets a trailer.

This looks downright embarrassing. Between this and the inexplicable Karate Kid remake, I think we can more or less declare that Jackie Chan's career as an action star is over. Now he's stooped to following the footsteps of Vin Diesel, for goodness sake. He may have one or two more Asian classics left in him, but his US career has permanently stalled. His last truly great film was Shanghai Knights, way back in early 2003. Since then he's had some stinkers (The Medallion, Rush Hour 3), and some noble failures (New Police Story, The Forbidden Kingdom). But this thing makes The Tuxedo look like Rumble in the Bronx. Alas, I'll likely have to watch this a couple times for work-related reasons. I'll try not to cry. The Spy Next Door comes out January 15th, 2010, just four months shy of Chan's 56th birthday.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, October 19, 2009

NATO owners decry Paramount's common sense business strategy.

The North Association of Theater Owners are up in arms over Paramount's announcement that it will release GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Goods around three-months after their theatrical releases.

NATO president John Fithian took a less diplomatic tact, saying “Our members are ballistic. We don't know what Paramount is up to, but it's highly objectionable.”

Fair enough, but there are a few things worth noting. First of all, The Goods was an instant flop that hasn't been in theaters since October 1st (GI Joe is currently in about 500 theaters and it will lose many of them this weekend). Second of all, the reason that Paramount is rushing GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra into stores is that the cash-strapped studio desperately needs GI Joe, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (available tomorrow), and Star Trek (due November 27th) to be among the top home releases of the year (Up and The Hangover are going to provide hearty competition). What (I presume) Paramount is thinking is that they have those two major titles out well before Black Friday, so you can soak up the initial 'must buy it now' fanbase. Then, just a few weeks later, you have sold your initial supply, and you can then ramp up your campaign to make the titles (especially the cheaper DVD variants) the must-buy casual gifts of the season. Plus, you get to package the two titles in a kind of discount promotion with the November 27th release of Star Trek (buy two and get $5 back, buy all three and get $10 back). It sounds like common sense to me. And this is not the first time this has been done. Sony released The Legend of Zorro just over three months after its theatrical release. And Lionsgate often has its latest Saw sequel on DVD by late January, in time to catch the gift-card crowds. Acting like Paramount is the first studio ever to fast-track a DVD release just makes NATO look stupid.

Finally, and this means you NATO, if you want to justify studios delaying their DVD releases of their theatrical films, it wouldn't kill you to actually keep those films in theaters long enough for casual moviegoers to actually see them in a theater! Have I seen Jennifer's Body yet? Nope, because the film was already out of theaters by the time I had the time to casually catch a movie. How long did I wait? Oh, until
October 9th, a whopping 22 days after its opening day. Did Wendy and I catch The Taking of Pelham 123 in theaters like she wanted to? Nope, because by the time we had the grandparents around to watch our daughter over July 4th weekend, it was no longer playing at the local megaplex. Yep, by Saturday July 4th (a whopping 23 days after theatrical release) this $23 million+ opener was already out of major theaters. And let's not forget our matinee trip to see Sorority Row. Since both of us had a light work day, we decided to catch the film on the day before its third weekend. We tried to use AMC's free tickets but were (wrongly) told that the film wouldn't accept said passes until two full weeks (it's usually ten days). Well, guess what? The film was removed from the theater the very next day, not even making it fifteen days in national release at a major multiplex.

I know that studios release far too many movies in a given weekend, but you can't have it both ways. Either stop fighting the studios that want to offer simultaneous day-and-date theater and home releases, or keep the movies in your megaplexes long enough for casual moviegoers to actually see them in a theater. If theater owners want to keep theater-going as the prime choice for seeing movies, they have to actually keep those movies in a theater long enough so that the general populace actually has a chance to see them that way. Or you could bring back a vibrant second-run industry... but that would be just silly right?

Scott Mendelson

Wes Craven's 25/8 becomes My Soul To Take.

Wes Craven's long delayed follow-up to Red Eye has a new title. Craven announced via Twitter that the picture, which has long been titled 25/8, will now be known as My Soul To Take.

The project, the horror auteur's first original screenplay since Wes Craven's New Nightmare, concerns the violent fates of seven teenagers who were all born on the same day, the very day that an infamous serial killer met his end. The film has allegedly been undergoing reshoots for much of the last year. Without going into details, I certainly hope that's true. I really, really hope that's true...

Scott Mendelson


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