Sunday, May 31, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon trailer...

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON trailer in HD

The biggest shock in this trailer is that the film lacks the distinctive blue/gray palette of the first film. While the colors are much brighter and richer, the film lacks the distinctive 'art-film haze' of Twilight. New director means new visual style I suppose, but I prefer consistency when I can get it with franchises. Aside from the last shots, there is nothing special about this teaser. That last shot is a doozy, an impressive transformation scene that basically promises fans that 'yes, this time we have an ample special effects budget'. It's not photo-real, but it is a nice bit of cheesy movie magic that is surprisingly effective. I'm assuming that the next trailer will expand a bit, especially regarding the newer characters (such as Graham Greene and Dakota Fanning) and the new bits of mythology. I've never read the books, so this will all be news to me.

Scott Mendelson

A far more important milestone than crawling/walking...

Sunday at 2:45pm May 31st, 2009
My daughter, Allison Elizabeth Mendelson stood up, pointed at the character on the television and (correctly) uttered "The Batman". Thank you, Brave and the Bold (hilarious episode this weekend, involving Bat Mite, biker Santas, mutant Easter bunnies, and grouchy Batman fanboys). Wendy is distraught. Victory is mine! Next I'll have to get her to say 'Joker'. She already cackles like a murderous clown anyway, so this is just a small step.

This is a very proud day for me.

Do Sony and The Taking of Pehlam 123 actually benefit from the death of John Travolta's son?

Random disconcerting thought for the morning. The big gossip news today is that John Travolta will not be doing publicity for Sony's upcoming The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Fair enough. The man lost his sixteen year old son in a freak accident just six months ago, so the idea of doing a junket and/or appearing on the late-night talk shows is probably not very appealing right now (or ever again). But here's the awkward situation. It stands to argue that the news that Travolta is not doing publicity, as revealed by the film's costar (Denzel Washington), makes for a bigger media splash than if Travolta had just gone out and done the traditional publicity tour. Surely if his son had not just died, the footage of Travolta doing this appearance or that appearance wouldn't be the least bit noteworthy. Furthermore, if Travolta had gone the publicity route, so soon after said family tragedy, each appearance and each interview would have been front page fodder for the gossip rags and gossipy news sites. Either he opens up about his grief and every quote becomes a 'must read heart breaker', or he completely focuses on the film, which then is a news story in and of itself ("Why won't he talk about it? Is he in denial?" the tabloids will scream).

Point being, from a purely objective point of view,could we have reached a point in tabloid media where the death of Jett Travolta is actually a boon for Sony marketing and those who desire that The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 open well in two weeks? Just as the death of Heath Ledger and the prostitution-related arrest of Hugh Grant gave a token added boost to their respective projects, John Travolta's family tragedy will have the effect of turning an arbitrary publicity tour (by Washington and others involved in the film) into a genuine news story that will place the film in the fore minds of readers and viewers everywhere. Sad to say, but could the obviously tragic death of Travolta's son actually be good news for the financial success of his latest picture?

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Friday box office (quick)...

Up did $21.4 million, which could mean $55 million, or it could mean $75 million. I'd say closer to the latter, but Wall-E was surprisingly front loaded last year. We won't know until Sunday morning, no matter what Nikki Finke tells you at 4pm today. Either way, it's right in line with the Pixar expectation and just a shade below the Pixar-record opening day of $23 million for Wall-E.

Universal marketing should be dragged to hell for not getting Drag Me to Hell to $8 million+ (it opened to $6.5 million yesterday). The reviews were great, the poster was terrific, and the film damn well should have capitalized on the 'girl power' marketing niche. The TV spots seemed to have played up the director's Evil Dead roots as well as the reviews, but failed to actually make the picture look genuinely fun (especially since they insisted on spoiling all kinds of climactic stuff). I can only wonder if they spent their ad dollars chasing the geek demo that was always going to show up. There is no excuse for this not opening at least as well as The Strangers. Considering the tripe that Sony/Screen Gems gets to $20 million+ (Prom Night, When A Stranger Calls), something that theoretically plays in the same sandbox (PG-13, hot-chick in peril, the potential use of female empowerment as a marketing tool) plus gets knock-em out of the park reviews should have done better than these would-be pretenders.

I can only wonder if the previews made younger teens think that this would actually be genuinely scary, as opposed to the no harm, no foul stuff that Screen Gems usually puts out. As we'll notice from the opening weekend trends, PG-13 horror that all but promises not to scare you has a much easier time opening at $20 million than R-rated horror that actually looks scary and/or intense (think Quarantine or The Hills Have Eyes). Ironically, Universal may have been better off allowing/forcing Sam Raimi to get an R. The PG-13 doesn't seem to have brought in the young kids and, from what I'm reading in the comments sections of my review at Huff Post and Open Salon, quite a few horror buffs are reluctant to go purely because of the lower rating. I can only imagine the word of mouth on this will be terrific, but $6.5 million is a mild disappointment for a major studio horror film that got almost unanimously rave reviews.

In other news, Star Trek crossed the $200 million mark yesterday, dropping only 39% from last Friday. It's now the highest grossing film of the year domestically. Night at the Museum 2 buckled under the competition and fell 54%, while Terminator Salvation crumbled 65% via negative audience feedback. More to come when the full weekend numbers roll in.

Scott Mendelson

Blu Ray Review: Spring Breakdown (2009)

Spring Breakdown
2009
84 minutes
Rated R
Available on from Warner Home Video on DVD, Blu Ray, ITunes download, and On-Demand on June 2nd.

by Scott Mendelson

I've often said that social progress comes when we no longer talk about strides being made. After all, if you still need to make a big deal about a female character being strong, intelligent, and theoretically empowering (like Kate or Juliette on JJ Abrams's Lost), then you're actually stating that such things should still be a big deal. On the other hand, if you have strong, intelligent, and completely capable female leads, but never feel the need to comment on it (such as Syndey Bristow on JJ Abrams's Alias or Olivia Dunham on JJ Abrams's Fringe), then you're automatically stating that we've come far enough in gender relations that such things shouldn't be a big deal.

By that same token, shouldn't we celebrate the release of a movie such as Spring Breakdown? It's not all that good, but it is a perfect example of a cheesy-low rent sex and booze comedy that happens to have a cast comprised almost entirely of women. Should we not praise the fact that we've come far enough that women can shephard and star in the same kind of mediocre screwball comedies that men get to create as a matter of course? While you could argue that I am in fact making a big deal out of this fact, the film works primarily because it does not.

A token amount of plot - The film concerns three lifelong geeks/losers (Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, and Parker Posey) who have remained friends up into their mid-30s. Becky (Posey) finds herself drafted to monitor the college-age daughter of a would-be Vice Presidential candidate as young Ashley (Amber Tamblyn) finds herself darting off to South Padre Island for spring break. Deciding that this is their chance to party like the cool kids that they always admired, Becky's other two friends decide to tag along. Much alcohol consumption, attempted sexual hijinks, and theoretical hilarity ensue.

The film is pretty generic, but what makes it watchable is the energy of the three leads and the obvious joy that the supporting cast (Will Arnett, Seth Myers, Missi Pyle, and Jane Lynch) gets from playing in this particular sandbox. I laughed about half a dozen times and smiled about twice as often. Whether it deserved a theatrical release is certainly up for debate (Nikki Finke famously cried sexism when Warner shelved the picture despite decent test screening scores), but I'd argue that this obviously low-budget comedy could have easily turned a small profit if it was able to tap into the same audience that scored $60 million for the utterly bland Baby Mama. I also question why the film was allowed to keep its R-rating, as it seems to be rated R primarily for a single 'f-word'. There is, to my recollection, no nudity, no sex, no drug use, and only PG-13-level crude humor. This is one of the softer R-rated films I've ever seen.

Anyway, studio gender politics aside (and really, Warner Bros. is the studio that released The Brave One, The Invasion, The Reaping, Sex & The City, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants 2, He's Just Not That Into You, and The Women), the film is worth a gander if you're a fan of any of the onscreen talent. And the fact that the film is being sold not as a pioneering feminist statement, but simply as another dumb comedy that happens to star a bunch of female comedy stars, is relatively refreshing and buys it a token amount of goodwill in my book.

The Blu Ray:
The brief 85 minute feature sports a perfectly adequate 1080p 1.85:1 transfer. Nothing to write home about, but the colors are bright, the flesh tones are accurate, and there is both a lack of grain and filters. Basically a solid transfer from an old-fashioned 35mm film image. The audio is English 5.1 and French 5.1. As we all know, I have awesome 2.0 mono, so I can only say that I could hear the film at all times and there was more than appropriate separation and balance with regards to dialogue, music, and sound effects. The feature has English, Spanish, and French subtitles. The extras are a bit lacking, but there is a feature-length commentary, three-minutes of deleted scenes, and two minutes of gag reels (Jane Lynch dominates the latter). Oh yes, there is an invaluable digital copy to boot, plus access to BD Live extras. Yawn.

The film may or may not have deserved a theatrical release (I've seen much worse comedies in theaters), but it's certainly worth checking out for a showcase for several justly revered comic actresses. It's certainly worth a rental.

The film - C+
The visuals - B
The audio - NA
The extras C-

Blu Ray review: He's Just Not That Into You (2009)

He's Just Not That into You
2009
126 minutes
Rated PG-13
Available on June 2nd on DVD, Blu Ray, and OnDemand from Warner Home Video.

I've written at length in the recent past about so-called 'chick flick's that play into what I call female escapist fantasy. It differentiates from male fantasy in that it involves casting off responsibility and living only for yourself (comparably, stereotypical male fantasy movies involve immature boys who 'man up', take responsibility for their actions and are able to live selflessly to their betterment and reward). IE - Sex & The City: The Movie is a female escapist fantasy, while Iron Man is a male escapist fantasy.

What's most intriguing about He's Just Not That Into You is how deftly it avoids the female escapism template for much of its running time. The narrative, as most of you know, involves the intertwining lives of several adult professionals as they navigate the perils of romance and finding or keeping that special someone. By the end of the film, some of these couples will remain intact, some will break apart, and maybe even a new couple or two will be formed. But pretty much every relationship is rooted in a grounded maturity and responsibility. No one casts off their responsibilities for the sake of their own empowerment. Nor does anyone particularly feel the need to save the proverbial day for the sake of their own manhood.

Also worth noting is that the film avoids painting its characters with broad moral strokes. Likable, sympathetic characters do terrible things while maintaining their humanity. This is not a story of good and evil, but about the difficult choices that humans make on the dating scene. Warts and all (and the film's arcs have a certainly perfunctory feel throughout), the film is a worthwhile and semi-realistic examination of how the real world of dating and romance differs from the fairy-tale fantasies sold to men and women of all ages.

The Blu Ray -
The video looks gorgeous, as is usually the case for recent Warner titles. The audio is fine (again, no surround sound set up). The extras are surprisingly slim, but what's there is interesting. Most gratuitous is a newspaper-type layout that leads to several 'after the movie ends' interviews with the main characters. Nothing too deep revealed here, but of course one should not watch it until after watching the feature. There is a brief (12 minute) featurette, concentrating on the film and the self-help book that spawned it. The two most interesting bits are the deleted scenes and a four-minute look into how a single pivotal scene was created. It's always fun to see how much thought, preparation, and intent goes into any single scene, even if its just two characters having a telephone conversation. The bulk of the thirteen minutes of deleted scenes deal with the mother of Scarlett Johansson's character. The commentary (correctly) concludes that having her act as a reaction to her mother would take away her own individuality.

The film is better than it's been given credit for, as it's the rare 'chick flick' that doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities of making relationships work. Everyone in the star-studded cast takes the material seriously (Ginnifer Goodwin fearlessly throws herself into a genuinely obnoxious character), and Justin Long has never been better. It's not a perfect film, but there's certainly more under and on the surface than most large-scale romantic comedies. In fact, its strength comes from its willingness to embrace the inherent drama in its story.

The Film - B
The Image - A-
The Audio - NA
The Extras - C+

Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Up (2009)

Up
2009
102 minutes
Rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

It is one of the bitter realities of our existence; that all of our relationships must end with the pain and sadness that comes with death. All of my relationships, friends and family alike, will end on the same bitter note. No matter how good of a father I am to my child, I cannot escape the fact that the final memories that she will have of me will be the circumstances and feelings associated with watching me die. And no matter how long my marriage lasts, in all likelihood the last thing we will do for each other is hold each other's hands as the first one of us passes on to leave the other behind to pick up the pieces. I can only hope that the lasting impressions made while still on this Earth are strong enough to overpower the more painful memories forged right at the end in the minds of the people who must eventually bury me.

Up is easily my favorite animated film since Meet the Robinsons. Both films are unabashedly sentimental fables about the broad strokes of life. Meet the Robinsons dealt with a young orphan boy who learns to accept the hardships that early life can bring, so that he can 'keep moving forward'. Up is about a man at the end of his life, with seemingly nothing to live for except to look backwards with fondness and regret. At the risk of scaring off would-be viewers, it is the most achingly sad romantic fable since Sarah Polley's Away From Her. And while I wouldn't recommend it as a casual date movie, and I'm not sure how it will play as a family film (since the kids might wonder why mommy and daddy are crying), it is a gloriously beautiful adventure film that will likely remain the finest film of 2009.

A token amount of plot - Elderly Carl (Ed Asner) has just buried Elle: his wife, his childhood sweetheart and his best friend. Waking up without any purpose to his life, he simply sits on his couch, mourning both his loss and the one adventure that his wife and he never got around to taking (life kept getting in the way). After circumstances put both his house and his freedom in jeopardy, Carl decides to live out Elle's childhood dream (traveling to South America and living in a house on the mountaintop next to the theoretical Paradise Falls). Using leftover balloons from his days as a balloon peddler, Carl sets sail as his entire home floats into the sky. As he embarks on one final adventure to keep a promise, he soon discovers that a young 'wilderness explorer scout' has accidentally stowed himself away on the front porch.

That's all you get. I wouldn't dream of revealing what Carl encounters on his journey. It offers up its visual pleasures without explanation and without apology, knowing that it has earned the right to its own imagination. The film is surprisingly simple, with a relatively straight-ahead narrative that takes only a few twists along the way. As Carl and the young boy bond through their mutual grief (young Russell is mourning the apparent divorce of his parents and the absence of his father), Carl desperately tries to get his house to the falls before the helium runs out. Despite the melancholy undertone, this is, similar to the last Indiana Jones picture, an often rousing story about a man nearing the end of his days discovering that he still has a life left to live.

While the film is basically about death and the fragility of life, Up is every bit as funny and exciting as any other Pixar film. The 'talking dog' (via electronic collar) revealed in the previews is just the beginning of the glorious discoveries that are in store. The animation is, of course, astonishing, with rich bright colors and vivid details around every corner. The score by Michael Giacchino is every bit as rousing as his work on The Incredibles. And the vocal work (mostly filled with actual voice over artists, save for Delroy Lindo and Christopher Plummer) is splendidly low-key and naturalistic and always at the service of the story (Ed Asner is wonderful per usual, although most of Carl's best moments are silent ones). Even if kids don't get the heavy dramatics at play, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud gags and gee-whiz action scenes to keep them enthralled.

Up is a wonderfully touching, openly dark, and surprisingly surreal adventure story. To call the picture 'sentimental' would be an understatement, as it is often an ode to sentimentality. It uses wordless montage and the power of silence every bit as effectively as Wall-E and it's often just as action-packed as The Incredibles. It is a beautiful tale, gloriously told with rich and vivid characters, eye-popping visual splendor and it acknowledges the complete despairs and utter joys of life in one fell swoop. It is the finest film of 2009 and one of the finest animated films I've seen in my lifetime. Up is just that good.

Grade: A+

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra clip...


You know, to paraphrase that old expression, if you don't have something nice to show, then don't show anything at all. Those power-suits look ridiculous and the acting seems mediocre at best. Yes, I'm judging from a forty-second clip, but Paramount is the one who released said clip for judgment.

Scott Mendelson

Toy Story 3 teaser


Had I known this was going to be attached to Up, I would have left in time to catch the previews. I'm not sure the world needs a third Toy Story, but I'm guessing that the Pixar gang won't risk tarnishing the brand. Ironically, the plot of this installment, Andy going to college, was more or less the symbolic subtext of the second film (IE - a parent having to deal with their offspring heading off to secondary education and/or moving away). From what I've seen of the 2010 summer slate, this will likely battle it out with Iron Man 2 for the box office crown. Both films also are now the top contenders to threaten The Dark Knight's opening weekend record since the two titans of this summer, Transformers 2 and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, are opening on Wendesdays.

Scott Mendelson

Blu Ray Review: Falling Down (1993)

Falling Down
1993
112 minutes
Rated R
Available now on Blu Ray, DVD, and On-Demand.

By Scott Mendelson

For better or worse, Falling Down is the rare 'of its time' social issues drama that hasn't aged a day. The issues at play are tragically every bit as relevant today as they were in 1993. The most shocking thing about it is how unlikely it would be made today. I say this not because of its content or 'hot-button topics', but purely because it is the very sort of star-driven drama that is so rarely made by the major studios today. While it was sold as a thriller, it is not the least bit thrilling. It is a slightly comedic, but eventually sober mediation on discovering that the American Dream just wasn't going to happen for you. As Ray Liotta says in the otherwise forgettable Slow Burn, "Once you realize that you're not destined for greatness, you concentrate on survival".

I actually enjoyed the picture quite a bit more than I did when I first saw it sixteen years ago. While the concept is engrossing and the acting and direction is solid, I always felt that the film cheated a bit by explicitly stating that the lead character Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) was already mentally ill prior to his angry rampage. However, in retrospect, his mental illness and escalating madness works better for the specific film, and the film works better as an individual portrait of a would-be family annihilator than it does as a general story about the disappearing middle class and the scapegoating of society for the failures of individuals. Like Crash or Closer, the film succeeds much more as an individual character study than as an all-encompassing 'social issues' picture. But on that level, it's an uncommonly compelling motion picture, perhaps director Joel Schumacher's best.

The Blu Ray:

The film is given the Warner Bros 'book treatment'. This time, the book portion of the Blu Ray packaging is basically just a collection of photos, critical pull-quotes, filmographies, and a few brief essays. The image is perfectly fine, with bold colors and a clean print, although it won't be demo material anytime soon. Oddly, the audio is only English TruHD 2.0, and there are no 5.1 or 7.1 options on the disc. I'm not sure why Warner went this route, but since I don't have surround sound anyway, I can only state that the dialogue is clean and the sound effects are reasonably balanced against the music and vocals. The other audios are Spanish, French, and Italian. There are also copious subtitle options, although the English subtitles are a bit more paraphrased than I'm comfortable with.

As for the extras, they are shockingly slim. The best bit is a terrific commentary. However, despite the package stating that it's a general audio commentary with Joel Schmacher and Michael Douglas, the track is actually more of an audio documentary, with several participants delivering archival and newer sound bites in a non-screen specific fashion. Most interesting is the discussion about shooting in LA right as the Rodney King riots actually took place, and then debating on whether to film in the debris to give the picture a specific time and place. Schumacher eventually vetoed it, not wanting to exploit the misery of a city on fire. The refusal to do so now gives the film a timeless quality. Aside from the theatrical trailer, the only other extra is an awkward edited ten-minute conversation with Michael Douglas. The interview itself is fine, but its is inexplicably intertwined with random jump cuts and blurry film clips.

The film - A-
The visuals - B+
The audio - B-
The extras - C-

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Drag Me To Hell
2009
99 minutes
Rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Drag Me to Hell is a throwback to a time, in the mid-1980s, when horror films were fun first and scary second. Before the genre became a battle of the franchise boogeymen, before the advent of English adaptations of Asian fright fests, before the onslaught of gorier, more drawn out violence (itself a theoretical callback to the 1970s), there was a time when horror films were just plain fun. This new Sam Raimi picture is not terribly frightening, as the nature of its premise all but states that the would-be scares are without consequence. But it does have energy, an eagerness to entertain, and an old-school 80s fun house spirit, and it has all three in spades. As a bonus, it's the rare theatrical horror movie that isn't a remake or a random 'dumb kids get lost in the wood and get butchered' narrative. It is a real movie, with a real plot and plausible characters at its core. Drag Me To Hell may not be shiver-in-the-dark scary, but it is a trashy B-movie blast.

A token amount of plot - Christine Brown (Alison Lohman, in a somewhat overly on-point performance) is a young loan officer pining for a promotion to assistant manager. Wanting to avoid appearing like a push over in front of her boss (David Paymer), she declines an elderly gypsy's request for a mortgage extension, dooming the woman to foreclosure. As a result, the old woman (Lorna Raver) lashes out in anger, cursing Christine and condemning her to an eternity in hell, but only after three days of psychological and emotional torture (you know, for fun).

The majority of the narrative concerns Christine's attempts to rid herself of this damnation, all while trying to appear normal to her boss, her boyfriend (Justin Long), and her boyfriend's theoretically disapproving family. Needless to say, the gypsy curse gives director Sam Raimi an excuse to throw whatever whacked-out effects work he wants at the screen, all in the name of startling the audience into nervous laughter. Since the premise dictates a certain lack of onscreen physical violence or gore, Raimi uses his PG-13 instead to show all kinds of old-fashioned gross-outs, jolting 'gotcha' moments, and plenty of ick. It works more often than not, but the underlying premise dictates that nothing will actually happen to our heroine until the three days expire (assuming she can't break the curse, of course). Save for the brutal and terrifying prologue, all of the subsequent scares will simply be false alarms or intentional mind games on the part of the various evil forces at work. It's popcorn-flying fun, but it's not scary.

Whether this is an issue is up to you, but the picture works on other levels to compensate for the lack of bone-chilling terror. The characters are relatively fleshed out, which is a refreshing change of pace in this genre. Justin Long is quite good here, giving Clay Dalton a strong but plausible protective streak. Even Clay's would-be villainous mother is given a scene of empathetic humanity. Rham Jas is terrifically engaging as a believing psychic, especially as this is his feature-film debut (next up, James Cameron's
Avatar). And while David Paymer flirts with cliche as the snarky bank manager, it is awfully nice to see this underutilized actor in a high profile movie again.

While this is being hailed as director Sam Raimi's return to the horror genre that made him a legend, this is a very different kind of picture than the
Evil Dead series. While the visuals and the camera work will remind even the casual fan of Bruce Campbell's various horror pratfalls, this is, if anything, an attempt to put those kind of cinematic tricks into a movie with an actual plot and actual characters. By all objective standards, this is a genuinely better film than any of the Evil Dead pictures. Amazingly, Bruce Campbell does not make a cameo in this one, although that 1973 Oldsmobile Delta Royale does. It is ironic that Sam Raimi, whose The Evil Dead was one of the pioneering 'dumb kids go into the woods and get slaughtered' pictures, would be the one to attempt to break the horror genre free of that current rut.

The film will not leave you feeling icky or ill-at-ease. It's not that kind of horror film. The film works splendidly as a comic homage to 1980s supernatural gross-out pictures, the kind that you barely remember watching when your parents weren't looking (think
The Gate). Despite the lush 2.35:1 wide screen cinematography, I actually think that the picture would work best when viewed on a basic cable station at 2am in the morning. Drag Me to Hell is certainly a jump out of your seat good time as a theatrical experience, but I'd only imagine that it would have scared the hell out of me if I had seen it when I was nine, on Channel 43 at 1am in the morning as I struggled to stay awake to see what happened next.

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The first trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans... Wow.


Well, this looks special, regardless of whether you have fond memories of the infamous original. That 1992 Abel Ferrara cult film starred Harvey Keitel as a completely whacked-out cop trying to solve the rape of a nun. For those who mourn the alleged death of 'looney tunes' Nicolas Cage, there should be much rejoicing. This seems to be a trip back to pre-Leaving Las Vegas for Mr. Nic Cage. It's certainly an interesting first look. Val Kilmer also looks like he's having a blast. This definitely might be some kind of twisted masterpiece and/or colossal train wreck. Either way, it should be entertaining.

Scott Mendelson

Q&A with writer Alan Burnett, screenwriter of the DC Animated Universe feature Green Lantern: First Flight

This is the fourth of several interviews with the cast and crew of the upcoming DC Animated Universe feature Green Lantern: First Flight. It's a bit long, but some of my essays have been longer so I suppose I'll humor WB for the sake of getting a screener of this thing when the time comes (Green Lantern: First Flight will be released on DVD and Blu Ray on July 28th). The first interview was with actor Victor Garber. The second interview was with director Lauren Montgomery. The third one was with Juliet Landau. This fourth interview is with writer Alan Burnett (who, along with pioneers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, is probably singlehandedly responsible for the success of the DC Animated Universe as we know it). Enjoy.

QUESTION:
What made Alan Burnett the perfect choice to write
Green Lantern: First Flight?

ALAN BURNETT:
They had been going through some ideas for Green Lantern stories and none of them were quite working out and I came up with this notion that I thought would be interesting. So, I just pitched it to them in one line. “Have you ever done Green Lantern as
Training Day?” with the idea of the Denzel Washington role being Sinestro. They said, “That sounds pretty good – start writing.” And that’s how it began.

QUESTION:
So this is a police story?


ALAN BURNETT:

We’re treating all the sectors of the universe as precincts and there's, I believe, about 3,600 Green Lanterns – one for every precinct. Hal Jordan covers our section. The story is essentially Hal Jordan’s first day on the beat as a cop and he's partnered with Sinestro. He's seeing the universe for the first time, and we get to look at the universe through his eyes. It’s a bizarre place, but it's also pretty recognizable.


QUESTION:

Is there a message within this film?


ALAN BURNETT:

Well, one of the messages is that I like lots of fights (he laughs). I suppose it's the old “Don’t judge a book” thing. Appearances are deceiving. Those who you think might be your greatest friend can be your greatest enemy, and those you might think are of no use to you could be the most important person in your life.


QUESTION:

Did the origin story development of Hal Jordan in Justice League: The New Frontier influence your approach to this first Green Lantern film?


ALAN BURNETT:

I’d originally treated the origin story by going back to the very first Hal Jordan/Green Lantern comic book. But ultimately, my script was about 20 minutes longer than it should’ve been. Bruce Timm came up with the idea of getting the origin done as quickly as possible, so that’s where some cuts were made. Now we get the origin story done before the opening credits, and we leap right into the adventure from there.


QUESTION;

What makes Green Lantern a great super hero?


ALAN BURNETT:

Green Lantern is sort of a unique super hero. When you’re writing his powers, they do seem a bit odd – at times, they’re very sci-fi and at other times very magical. It's like that old saying about the technology being so advanced that it looks like magic. He has a ring that allows him to construct anything he can imagine. One of the tricks to writing about those powers is that, when you come up with something he does with the ring, the audience is expecting to be amazed, but also – and this is odd to say about a comics/science fiction story – they need it to be in context, and it needs to be believable. Hal is also a very colorful character and he’s in the middle of this big soap opera in space. It’s a very involving backdrop that opens the door to telling a million stories with him. He also has one of the great costumes – that great Silver Age suit from the 1950s. He was one of the few, and maybe he was the first flying character, who didn't have a cape. So he has this sleek outfit and it’s very striking.


QUESTION:

What makes Sinestro a great villain?


ALAN BURNETT:

We play Sinestro as sort of the bad half of Hal Jordan. As I was writing them, I figured they were pretty close. They both have distaste for authority. But Sinestro is the dark side of the Green Lanterns – he wants absolute control, while Hal Jordan is more about serving the people. The other thing about Sinestro is that he doesn't think of himself as a villain. He has a plan which he thinks is going to benefit everyone, but unfortunately what this plan does is give him absolute power. And, of course, absolute power corrupts absolutely – and you can see that it's corrupting him even as he tries to wield it.


QUESTION:

When did you first fall in love with comic books?


ALAN BURNETT:

I had read comic books like “Little Lulu” when I was young, but when I was nine years old we took a vacation – and I always saved up comic books for the vacation because it was a long trip from Ohio to Florida. Into my stack that year I got the super hero comics and I particularly remember bringing Batman. Somewhere around Kentucky, I started reading my first super hero comic and it was like I lost my virginity. It was just the most amazing thing. I was suddenly in an adult world that I sort of understood and it was sort of made for me. And I was hooked. I've been hooked ever since.


QUESTION:

Did you have childhood aspirations of writing those comics and cartoons?


ALAN BURNETT:

When I was a kid reading this stuff, I never thought that I'd be writing it. But you know, it’s because I did read this stuff then that I write it now. When I started working at Hanna Barbara in 1981, they were looking for someone to take over the Super Friends show and they knew that I was a big comic book fan. Before that, I don't think the story editors or the writers cared about super heroes. So I have two degrees from college, and they don't mean as much to my career as those four or five really intense comic book reading years between the ages of 9 and 14.


QUESTION:

Who are your greatest writing influences?

ALAN BURNETT:

I have two major influences and it’s kind of strange to say them together, but those would be Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen. Hitchcock wasn't a writer, of course, but in a way he was because he sat down with his writers and worked his way through the script with them. I think there’s a lot of Hitchcock influence in some of the action-adventure things I’ve done. It's just little things, certain scenes or actions, that remind me of something he would’ve put in a film. I think Woody Allen has influenced the way I interject comedy into the action adventure. That’s my favorite genre: action-adventure comedy. Like North By Northwest. That’s just a beautiful, beautiful movie, and it’s as funny as it is thrilling. That's my favorite type of entertainment.


For more information, please visit the film’s official website at www.greenlanternmovie.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mendelson's Memos 500th post! Today's brilliantly boneheaded idea - a remake/reboot/re-something of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

One feature film. Seven years worth of television. Five years worth of closely related spin-off television. Countless comic books. What ideas can a new movie, starting from scratch, possibly explore that Joss Whedon and his merry bunch haven't already dealt with? Apparently the original minds behind the first Buffy the Vampire Slayer property think there's something to be mined, because they are apparently off to remake-ville.

How much darker can you make this property, aside from just turning it into a gore-filled R-rated slasher film? Why make a point to avoid the sort of tangled mythology and rich continuity that made the show strong in the first place? What possible success can come out of rebooting a series whose fans are so insanely loyal to the original cast and crew that they will likely boycott your product on principal?

Regardless of your feelings toward remakes or reboots, this is a stunningly miscalculated idea. The reason that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is so respected as a property is because of the people behind and in front of the camera. Fans couldn't care less about the idea per se of a former California cheerleader turned ass-kicking vampire hunter (at least I didn't). It was all in the execution. Whedon and company used the trappings to create a rich mythology, uncommonly vivid characters, and potent social commentary that rarely got in the way of the storytelling.

And, frankly, the very fans that would theoretically line up for a new Buffy movie are just the sort to take this news the worst. Buffy fans are on par with Trekkies, and it took forty-years for Star Trek fans to be accommodating for a redo of their favorite series. This just seems contradictory in logic. Like Star Trek, the basic premise (Stage Coach in space) wasn't what made the show an iconic piece of 1960s culture, but rather the execution and the characters that inhabited said universe. The various spin offs had the luxury of being created by or approved by the original creators, thus giving them the breathing room to establish new characters in the same universe. I can't imagine that this will do any better than the several 'vampire with a soul' TV shows that have been attempted (the new Dark Shadows, Vampire Diaries, Moonlight) in the wake of Angel's cancellation.

Basically, I'm guessing that Fran Rubel Kuzui (the director of the first film and original executive producer of the series) doesn't own the rights to any other properties and haven't had much luck getting other projects off the ground. So, since everyone's gotta eat, she is trying to cash in on the one chip she has. I'm sympathetic, but this is just a silly idea. I'm not saying it will flop, but I can't imagine what it can bring to the table (besides amped-up action, more explicit sexuality, and more graphic violence) that the Scooby Gang hasn't already explored.

And, come what may, it's only been six years people!

Scott Mendelson

The final poster for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Looks nice, and I'm most amused that WB feels that the brand is so familiar that they need not even put the full title of the film in the poster. I could do without the 'dark secrets revealed' tag, as a series this strong doesn't need such textual silliness (just like that final Dark Knight poster didn't need that dumb 'welcome to a city without rules' tag line). With Terminator Salvation sputtering out and Star Trek seemingly peaking at $250 million at best, it's increasingly clear that the summer showdown is coming down to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, with only Up existing as a possible spoiler (just as Finding Nemo dominated a disappointing June 2003 slate and emerge victorious).

Scott Mendelson

Monday, May 25, 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian takes Memorial Day derby - Mendelson's Memos weekend box office review.

As expected, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian pulled a rock-solid 3.49x multiplier over its three-day Fri-Sun weekend, grossing $54.1 million. The four-day gross is $70 million. This is a big win for a sequel that most underestimated, not remembering that the first film grossed a whopping $250 million in the US, which tops any X-Men, James Bond, Terminator, Star Trek, Bourne, or Superman picture to date. That initial film opened over Christmas weekend. It had the advantage of arriving right in the middle of Christmas vacation, but had the disadvantage of having its third day occur on the dreaded Christmas Eve. It ended up grossing $30 million over three days and $42 million over four days. It took the first Night at the Museum just over six days to reach the $70 million mark. Like the most successful family films, this sequel had its smallest day on its opening day. To wit, its first four days were - $15.5 million, $20 million, $18..5 million, and a Monday gross of $15.8 million. The biggest single day gross for Night at the Museum was $13.7 million on December 30th, 2006.

Now no one expects this sequel to have the kind of legs that the original had. Quite frankly, December releases are infamous for their long legs. Only in December can a $10 million opening weekend can still net you $90 million if the film is good enough (The Emperor's New Groove in December 2000) or where a $5-6 million opening weekend just before Christmas still get you over the $50 million mark (Sabrina, Mouse Hunt). But still, in this day and age, a $30 million opener going on to cross $200 million without being an actual cultural phenomenon is a rare thing (Cast Away was another freak occurrence over Christmas 2000).

But this boffo opening weekend for Battle of the Smithsonian gives the sequel a little breathing room for the usual quick-kill nature of summer sequels. A mere 3x weekend-to-total gives the film $210 million (using the four-day $70 million total). Even if it performs like the likely 2/3 track of Angels Vs. Demons (which is currently running a bit under 2/3 the pace of The Da Vinci Code), that still gives the film a domestic total of $167 million and an international total of $383 million. The biggest obstacles are the next two weekends, as two powerhouse family projects make their move. Next weekend brings Disney/Pixar's Up and the weekend after that is the Universal Will Ferrell comedy adventure Land of the Lost. If the Ben Stiller vehicle can weather the storm, and the IMAX screens will help with that, then this could easily be a $200 million performer. This is especially true if Up ends up being too depressing for parents and Land of the Lost ends up being too PG-13-y for younger kids. All of this is pure speculation, but one can only speculate in a summer filled with so few sure things.

I've written at length about Terminator Salvation, but the new five-day total is officially $65.3 million. For the record, this is not even close to a flop, but merely a much-too expensive picture that won't measure up to somewhat inflated expectations. (Mis) casting Christian Bale was not enough to make up for the lack of the series's marquee name and this series was not one that justified the $200 million investment. Furthermore, nothing against McG, but Warner Bros. should not have hired a director that was so loathed (fairly or not) by the core geek community. Heck, at least bringing Jonathan Mostow back would have maintained some series continuity. Most importantly, this was a film that should have cost $150 million tops.

The Terminator series has always been a vaguely cult-ish sci-fi property. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the exception to the rule, due to a killer trailer, its groundbreaking special effects, and its opening right as Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the peak of his fame (he was coming off the crowd-pleasing trio of Twins, Total Recall, and Kindergarten Cop). But because they allowed the budget to spiral past $200 million, a moderately OK box office performance becomes a potential disaster. I've said this a lot and it's worth repeating... studios have to stop spending so much on their major franchise pictures that each and everyone has to all-but break records just to break even. It's easy to applaud Warner Bros. when they throw unlimited funds at The Dark Knight or Harry Potter, and its easy to beat them up when they do the same for Speed Racer or Poseidon. But this is an industry-wide problem. DVDs aren't going to save you anymore and you can't always count on a doubling or tripling of the domestic gross overseas.

Anyway, moving on, Star Trek continued to prove me dead wrong with another below-50% dip in weekend three (the 3-day to 3-day weekend drop was 46.8%). Direct competition with Terminator Salvation prevented the film from equaling last weekend's three day take over the four-day weekend, but its four-day $29.3 million take (and $22 million three-day take) pushed its total to $191 million. Alas, it will have to wait a day or two at most to overtake Monsters Vs. Aliens ($193.7 million) as the year's highest grossing film. It's still petering out a little quicker than the word of mouth and general audience excitement would account for, but next weekend will be the one of reckoning. If it holds up, it'll make it to $250 million+ and become the inflation-adjusted highest-grossing Star Trek picture of all time (that would be the $235 million adjusted gross for Star Trek: The Motion Picture). If it crumbles, it'll stop dead at a still terrific $225 million. Either way, Paramount is playing long term with this franchise, so the sky is the limit for the eventual sequel.

Angels & Demons dropped a disturbing 53% in its second three-day weekend (40.7% if you count all four days). Still, the original film dropped a larger 55%, but this sequel is still pulling in the expected 2/3 business of The Da Vinci Code. No surprises here, although I'm sure that Sony would have preferred a $100 million+ gross for the end of the second weekend, but $87.5 million isn't so bad. This will cross $100 million next weekend and probably has another $30 million left (especially as Sony is stupidly releasing the adult-thriller June alternative, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 in two weeks). Not a major performance, but (as expected) the international numbers are coming to the rescue. The eleven-day international total is already $286 million.

Dance Movie opened to $12.62 million over four days. I couldn't care less, and you probably don't either. Moving on (for a spoof that actually feels like a 1980s ZAZ comedy, try Superhero Movie). X-Men Origins: Wolverine posted another 45.1% three-day to three-day weekend drop in its fourth weekend. Its $8 million three-day and $9.9 million four-day took the picture over the $165 million mark. It'll crap out at $180 million, and the international business is doing just fine. The current international total, not counting this weekend's overseas gross, is $310 million. Ironically, for all the insane circumstances surrounding this movie's production and release (amazing how Fox never found whomever leaked that bootleg), this one pretty much did the business that it was always likely going to do. It was never going to play like Iron Man or even a top-flier X-Men sequel, and it was lucky that it didn't end up like a Hulk film. I still can't wait for the director's commentary on the DVD/Blu Ray.

And that's pretty much all the news that's fit to print. Join us next weekend when Up makes the obligatory $50-70 million over opening weekend and Sam Raimi returns to horror with the ridiculous (but often ridiculously fun) Drag Me To Hell.

Scott Mendelson

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