Monday, November 30, 2009

Blu Ray Review: Terminator: Salvation (2009)


Terminator Salvation: The Director's Cut
2009
118 minutes
Rated R
Available Tuesday, December 1st on DVD, Blu Ray, On Demand, and ITunes Download

by Scott Mendelson

Terminator Salvation
is arguably the closest thing to non-stop action since The Mummy Returns. It opens in the thick of a military operation and barely slows down for its 115 minutes. Character development is almost non-existent and the picture relies on our prior knowledge of the previous Terminator pictures. The characters are paper thin and the film has obvious signs of tinkering. Ironically, for a film that constantly opines about the strength of the human heart, the film lacks the very heart and soul that brought humanity to the first three pictures. It is occasionally a first-rate action spectacle, but it is only the spectacle that merits recommendation. Full Theatrical Review (the director's cut makes no difference to the film's quality).

The Blu Ray:
The film looked spectacularly bleak when I saw it in theaters, and that bleached, gray hopeless image is repeated on the Blu Ray. The kind of perfection from this image is very different from the colorful nirvana of Star Trek or a Spider-Man picture, but it's beautiful in its own way. Since I don't have surround sound, the best I can say for the audio is that it was loud and crisp, with dialogue properly separated from sound effects at all times. The biggest extra of note is a three-minute longer 'director's cut'. Considering the 45 minutes of footage that was cut prior to the theatrical release, this is a pretty shabby turn from Warner. Even Universal put the infamous deleted footage from The Incredible Hulk on the DVD/Blu Ray as a separate supplemental.

Frankly, aside from a couple extra splashes of blood, I couldn't tell you what was different in the two versions (but movie-censorship.com can). The only other extras are two featurettes running about 30 minutes total and an In-Movie Experience, which is quickly taking the place of traditional commentaries at Warner Bros (unfortunately, this is available on the theatrical cut only). To be fair, it's actually a pretty solid movie-in-movie feature, as it runs pretty much nonstop with interviews, fly-on-the-wall footage, and director McG literally pausing the film and talking you through various sequences and reminding you that he's a pretty solid filmmaker (he loves long scenes that feel like a single take). And three cheers for Warner for providing English and French subtitles for the commentary portions as well as the feature. The total In-Movie gimmick runs about ten-minutes longer than the movie itself. The only portions available separately are the 'Focus Points', which run about 29 minutes combined. All in all, this smells like a candidate for an 'ultimate edition' double-dip within a couple years, hopefully with all of the missing footage either put back into the movie or offered as a bonus.

Blu Ray Review: Shorts (2009)

Shorts
2009
89 minutes
Rated PG (for mild action and rude humor - should have been a G)
Available Tuesday, December 1st on DVD, Blu Ray, On Demand, and ITunes Download

by Scott Mendelson

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

The Blu Ray:
As is becoming the pattern these days, Shorts is presented in a double-disc collection which contains the Blu-Ray and a standard definition DVD also containing a digital copy. Both the DVD and the Blu-Ray contain Rodriguez's standard '10-Minute Film School' and '10-Minute Cooking School' featurettes (the latter features a recipe for chocolate chip volcano brownies). The Blu Ray contains those two bonus features plus two exclusives, "The Magic of Shorts" (a making-of which concentrates on the technical and fx aspects) and "Shorts Show and Tell" (a making-of which concentrates on the young cast). The combined extra load totals less than forty-minutes, which is unfortunate for fans of this under-seen gem. There is alleged BD-Live capabilities, so there may eventually be some kind of additional content at some point. The film looks and sounds lovely, although I'm not sure why Warner didn't think to include a Spanish 5.1 Dolby TrueHD to compliment the respective English track. Point being, unless you collect Rodriguez's films or have the kind of kids who like to watch the same movie over and over again, this disc is purely a rental.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sandra Bullock Blind Sides New Moon, while newbies generally open OK. Thanksgiving weekend box office in review (11/29/09)

It was just seven-and-a-half years ago that Spider-Man became the first film to gross over $100 million in a single weekend. Now, we have a movie that has in fact dropped $100 million between its first and second weekend. That's right; Twilight Saga: New Moon grossed $42.5 million over the Fri-Sun portion of the long Thanksgiving weekend. That's a drop of 70.2%, the 52nd biggest drop of all-time and a difference of $100.3 million. Yes, the second-weekend gross was lessened by the holiday Wednesday and Thursday that preceded it (the film grossed $65 million from Wed-Sun), but this is still an astonishing statistic (like Lost in Space, it now becomes the answer to a fun trivia question). Not that it matters in the long run. The Dakota Fanning vehicle has already grossed $230 million, with about $475 million in global grosses in well under two weeks. As of now, it's close enough to the 62% second-weekend plunge of the first Twilight to be judged as having a similar run. By the end of its second weekend, Twilight had grossed 62% ($119.7 million) of its eventual $192.7 million total. Should New Moon follow suit, it's looking at a final domestic gross of around $370 million. So let's just assume that it will be slightly more frontloaded due to it being a sequel and the eventual end-of year competition and peg it at $350 million in the end.

But the big news of the weekend is the incredible legs of Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side. Following a larger than expected $34 million opening weekend and incredible word of mouth, the 'based on an incredible true story' football drama capitalized on the overly niche Thanksgiving offerings to become the one movie that the whole family could agree on this weekend. With $40 million in its second weekend (up 17% from its opening stretch), the well-reviewed heart-warmer just barely crossed the $100 million mark in its tenth day of release. Nevermind what I said last weekend about it crossing $150 million. This looks like an even bet for $200 million and a Best Actress nomination for Sandra Bullock, plus an outside shot at a Best Picture nomination should enough of the holiday 'Oscar bait' pictures (The Lovely Bones, Invictus, Nine, etc) disappoint. It will also soon top the $154 million-gross of Jerry Maguire to become the highest-grossing sports drama of all-time. Sandra Bullock is now, fifteen years into a varied and interesting career, the biggest female star on the planet. And please, let's not turn this film's refreshing success (wow,a $29 million, big studio, star-driven drama... who knew?) into a The Blind Side vs Precious debate, with alleged implications for Barack Obama and/or Sarah Palin in the next election cycle. Don't be that idiot. Anyway, Precious is still pulling in $10,000 per screen on 634 screens, although it plunged 34% implying that the film may have reached its pre-awards peak. Still, the 'other' critically acclaimed drama that kinda-sorta deals with racial issues has now grossed $32 million without even reaching 1,000 screens. Where it goes from here will be decided by its success at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

2012 was in third place, using the holiday weekend as a buffer and dropping just 32%. The mega-budget disaster movie to end all disaster movies has now grossed $138 million in the US and $594 million globally. Now, all the way in fourth place, we get to the new movies (openers rarely win the box office during the Thanksgiving holiday). The critically reviled ("if it were a person, I'd stab it in the face") Old Dogs could only muster $16 million over three days and $24 million over five. It's not a bad opening, but considering that the $35 million-budgeted film is supposed to be hell on Earth, I'm curious as to how general moviegoers respond. Still, it has no competition in the harmless family comedy demo for a good long while, so it might just hold its own. The redundantly-titled Ninja Assassin pulled in $21 million worth of nerds, Spike TV watchers, action-junkies of both genders, prurient fans of lead-actor Rain, and unwilling women who got dragged along as payback for dragging their significant others to New Moon last weekend. The film cost just $40 million, so it should be fine once overseas money comes in, as it'll be a cult rental and cable favorite for years to come.

A Christmas Carol also benefited from the holiday, crossing the $100 million mark and increasing its weekend take by 30%. Amazingly, it's still tracking just ahead of The Polar Express at this point. $180 million is not out of the question, but it will have to weather the loss of its 3D and IMAX screens to Avatar in just three weeks. Planet 51 dropped just 17% in weekend two, so the 'who-cares' animated stinker has now grossed $28 million. The lone flop opener of the weekend was Fox's The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Despite great reviews and a solid two-week run in limited release, the Wes Anderson animated fable grossed just $7 million over three days and $9.4 million over five. On the plus side, the theaters will be all the emptier should my wife and I take the chance and take our two-year old with us this afternoon (she laughed at the trailer and wanted to see 'more fox'). We've had success with the local second-run theater, but we have yet to brave a first-run release.

There were four limited releases of note this weekend. First off, The Road had a targeted 111-screen release, scoring a $1.5 million three-day and $2 million five-day opening. I've long surmised that the Weinsteins intentionally opened this grimmest of grim post-apocalyptic dramas over Thanksgiving in order to ensure it would flop, thus preventing them from having to spend money on a costly Oscar campaign. This last-minute switch from national release to targeted opening seems to verify that. We'll see what expansion plans are in store, if any, for this relatively well-reviewed, but long on the shelf adaptation of the beloved novel. The all-star drama The Private Lives of Pippa Lee opened on twelve screens and grossed just $96,000 over the long holiday. The Zach Efron vehicle Me and Orson Welles opened on four screens, grossing just $64,000 per. To be fair, the target demo for a Zac Efron film isn't the sort to be found at art-house theaters, so this could still do okay if it ever goes wide. The other limited release was Disney's The Princess and the Frog, which annoyingly (for my family) opened on just two super-expensive venues in New York and LA. Yes, it scored the third-biggest per screen average of all time, with $356,000 per screen for three days and $571,000 per screen for the whole holiday. But movies tend to do that when they open in two theaters that charge $30-$50 per ticket. The critically acclaimed 2D throwback opens wide on December 11th.

That's pretty much all the news that's fit to print. Join us next weekend, when The Blind Spot likely takes over the top spot as New Moon continues to fall and the openers (Armored, Brothers, Everybody's Fine) struggle for third place on less than 2,300 screens a piece. Jason Reitman's Up in the Air opens in ten theaters as it attempts to cement its status as an Oscar front runner (barring unforeseen variables, a review is coming Tuesday night or Wednesday morning). For a look at what happened last Thanksgiving, to listen to a radio interview I conducted concerning New Moon, Precious, and gender role models, or just to see what you've been missing, check out Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Scott Mendelson is officially a pundit.


This is a phone interview that I conducted with Jesse Wente of Canada's Q Radio. It's my first real interview, so there are plenty of first-timer hiccups. First of all, it was conducted at 6:30am while I had sniffles-related laryngitis. Second of all, I allowed the conversation to get sidetracked and ended up basically failing to discuss the issue at hand (my article stating that male film characters aren't expected to be role models). So while there is much room for improvement should I be welcomed back, I enjoyed it more while I was listening to it than when I recorded it. I've embedded it here for your enjoyment (if the embed stops working, here is an archived version). By the way, I meant 'more reluctant' at 9:16, not 'less reluctant'. Be gentle, it's my first time.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, November 27, 2009

To pimp Ryan Reynolds, MTV blogger randomly makes up record-breaking statistic for The Proposal...

Did Terry Schwartz just randomly make this up? In a random post published September 1st (linked to in a Thanksgiving article concerning Ryan Reynolds), Schwartz proclaims that The Proposal is the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all-time. Well, since it outgrossed Sex and the City: The Movie, then it must be the biggest ever, right? Uh... no. Aside from the fact that the author has no clue that Sandra Bullock is an actual box office draw (a film made money, let's give the man all the credit!), The Proposal is actually the sixth-highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. Sixth. Not first, not second or third... sixth place. From Box Office Mojo's list:

1. My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($241,438,208)
2. What Women Want ($182,811,707)
3. Hitch ($179,495,555)
4. Pretty Woman ($178,406,268)
5. There's Something About Mary ($176,484,651)
6. The Proposal ($163,958,031)
7. Sex and the City ($152,647,258)

Was that so hard? Ten seconds on Box Office Mojo was all it took. What exactly caused Terry Schwartz to think that The Proposal was the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time? And more importantly, who the hell let her print that without asking her to check the numbers to make sure that the entire article wasn't completely and totally false?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Wolfman gets a traditional one-sheet.

I'm presuming that this is the final poster. There have been all kinds of reports involving behind the scenes turmoil on this one (Danny Elfman's gothic score being replaced, a fix-it editor called in to help construct the picture, etc), but I'm still hopeful. There's just too much talent behind and in front of the camera. At the very least, this will be a refreshingly old-fashioned horror film starring adults for adults. Of course, if the picture ends up with a PG-13 and a running time of 90 minutes, then it'll be time to mourn. Oh, and the poster is obviously intended for foreign use, as the release date is the traditional day/month/year labeling. The Wolfman has not been moved to December 2nd, 2010, but will still be released on 02/12/10. Happy Valentine's Day indeed.

Scott Mendelson

Book of Eli gets a poster.

My wife has been making the same joke over and over since she saw the trailer before The Box. "Who runs Bartertown? Gary Oldman runs Barter Town!" On the plus side, it looks like Oldman will add another notch to his onscreen mortality rate.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's Avatar?

Fox needs to get it in gear. I was interviewed about racial and gender politics - re: The Princess and the Frog - for BBC World Service Radio. After a fun but too-brief chat, I brought up the buzz regarding Avatar as a topic for further discussion. The producer had no idea what I was talking about.

Scott Mendelson

The Muppets do Bohemian Rhapsody...


You know, if they wanted to avoid the 'uncomfortable' first verse ("mama, just killed a man..."), then they should have just had Beaker sing the whole thing. Otherwise, this is a charming little Thanksgiving treat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Moon opening a (hopefully minor) headache for Avatar.

It's not the least bit fair, but New Moon's $140.7 million opening is very bad news for James Cameron's Avatar. Long advertised as a game-changer, the sci-fi adventure now has a burden of measuring up to this rather stunning performance. Truth be told, no live-action movie containing Avatar's variables (no stars, not a sequel, not a known property, not a literary adaptation) has opened north of $68 million (The Day After Tomorrow). If you want to bend it a bit, you can count 300 (at $70 million, but the comic had a cult following at best) or The Passion of the Christ (which, at $83 million, could theoretically be considered based on a true story not withstanding its literary origins).

And because the trend in entertainment journalism is to go negative as often as possible, New Moon's business will be used as a weapon against Avatar if it doesn't absolutely explode over opening weekend. For example, Spider-Man's $114 million shocker weekend was used as a blunt instrument against Attack of the Clones's perfectly impressive $110 million four-day gross. It very well could open bigger than any non-sequel, non-star vehicle, non-franchise, and non-adaptation in history, but it's a tough place to basically have to set a new record in order to be viewed as a success. I'd love to be wrong, but considering how nuts everyone went over that somewhat fraudulent '$500 million budget' NY Times article, the knives are already out in force. I'd love to see Cameron blow us all away and laugh his way to the bank all over again, but New Moon's $140 million launch is just another problem to deal with from a perception point of view. And, frankly, if Avatar is the real deal, than Fox needs to start screening this thing the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Scott Mendelson

Cedric Diggory crushes Harry Potter. Twilight Saga: New Moon opens with $142 million. Weekend box office in review.

If you're a Batman fan or a general guy-centric geek, you're probably thinking "That was close... too close". If you're a Twi-fanatic, you're thinking something along the lines of "We'll get you next time Batman, next time!" (Eclipse comes out June 30th, 2010). Either way, Twilight Saga: New Moon pulled in a massive $142.8 million over its first three days. That's the third-biggest opening weekend of all time, behind Spider-Man 3 ($151 million) and The Dark Knight ($158 million). I discussed the Friday opening in much detail, so I'll try to avoid repetition (which is why I usually don't write posts concerning Friday box office). Let's dive right in...

Midnight - $26.2 million - Best midnight-3am gross.
Friday - $72.7 million - Best Friday ever and best single day ever.
Saturday - $42.2 million - 7th-biggest Saturday (-41% from Friday).
Sunday - $27.8 million - 17th-biggest Sunday (-34% from Saturday)

The Twilight franchise has become the first series to slightly increase its weekend multiplier between the first and second films. Sequels are by nature more highly anticipated and thus more likely to gross a bigger portion of its opening gross on the opening day. Twilight had the second-lowest weekend multiplier (that's total weekend divided by opening day) on record with 1.938x. New Moon actually decreased the multiplier by just a fraction (1.96x). As far as the original-to-sequel increase, New Moon improved upon its predecessors opening weekend by a 2.02 times. So it fits right above the Bourne series (there was 193% increase between Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy). And you all thought that list was a waste of time? Want some stunning comparisons? In two days, New Moon grossed $115.9 million, surpassing the (then record) $114.8 million three-day weekend for Spider-Man. In three days, New Moon surpassed the five-day opening gross of Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix ($139 million), while coming up just $16 million short of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's five-day opening ($158 million). It out-grossed Prince Caspian's total $141.6 million domestic gross in three days. And the entire domestic gross of every non-Twilight film that Summit has released since November 2007 (starting with the underrated P2) is just $234 million. Whether that says more about Twilight or Summit Entertainment, I'll leave for you to decide, but New Moon will surpass the entire non-Twilight Summit catalog in the next week or two. Which means, in my personal opinion, Summit either needs to learn how to market non-Twilight product or get themselves sold before this series comes to an end.

Here's another fun statistic... the audience for this huge weekend was 80% female. So, if you looked anything like Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner and were willing to tag along at the movies this weekend, there's a pretty healthy chance that you got laid over the last 72 hours. Prurient humor aside, it's kinda refreshing to see a major franchise where the males are objectified more than the females. This opening weekend completely dispels one of the cardinal rules of thumb regarding movies, which is that a strong interest from both genders is necessary for a massive opening weekend and long-term playability. Iron Man opened to $98 million because girls wanted to see it as well as boys. 300 appealed to both sexes while Watchmen floundered because of its (alleged) strict boys appeal. And pretty much every major mega-opening was a stereotypical boy movie that had enough appeal for women to draw them into the theaters as well (conventional wisdom dictates that girls will see boy movies but boys won't sit through girl movies). Well, if you take out that 20% male audience, then you still get $114.1 million, which would still make it the biggest three-day weekend of 2009 and the eighth-biggest of all time. Take that, conventional wisdom. I wish the test case had been Whip It, but oh well.

So where does this leave the movie over the long run? It basically can run the boards for the next month, until the one-two punch of Avatar and Sherlock Holmes at the end of the year. There are only two movies that have opened with over $100 million and failed to reach $300 million. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire brought in $102.6 million on this same weekend in 2005, but ended up settling for a 'mere' $290 million. And X-Men: the Last Stand brought in $102.7 million as part of a $122 million four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2006, but audience discontent and general front-loading caused the movie to only make $234 million. And New Moon has a $40 million head-start and a general lack of demo competition, so it's likely game-set-match for Team Dakota... err Team Edward. Barring unprecedented collapse, New Moon will make it to $300 million. Despite the massively front-loaded weekend, the first film actually stuck around in theaters long enough to nearly make it to the $200 million mark. If it equals the total-gross multiplier of Twilight ($192.7 million/$69.6 million = 2.76), then it will end up with a boffo $394 million. However, it IS a sequel and it may very-well play like a quick-kill blockbuster. But even if it performs like the more frontloaded movies of 2009 (Madea Goes to Jail, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, etc) with around a 2.2x weekend-to-total multiplier, it still ends up with $314 million. Heck, if it surpasses The Jonas Brothers 3D Concert Experience as the most frontloaded movie of all time ($19.1 million divided by $12.5 million opening = 1.528x multiplier), that still nets the vampire sequel $218 million. Of course, that's about as likely to happen as the other extreme of it surpassing Titanic, but I do so enjoy doing the math.

Let's see... I think that about covers it. Oh, it scored $274 million worldwide for the sixth-biggest global debut of all-time (Harry Potter still gets to keep that record for now). So let's move on to the other movies. Second place went to The Blind Side, which in any other weekend would have been huge news. The 'would be implausible if it weren't true'-story involving a rich white family adopting a homeless black teen opened with $34.1 million. So yes, Sandra Bullock, an actress who previous to June of this year never had a single $20 million opening in her life, just scored her second $30 million+ of the year. For whatever reason, Sandra Bullock is a bigger star than she's ever been over the last fifteen years. For the moment, it appears that the next Sandra Bullock is... Sandra Bullock. The Blind Side scored the biggest debut for a sports drama, and it received a rare A+ from Cinemascore. The well-reviewed heart-warmer blanketed ads all over sports networks, using its football hook to draw in sports fans to compliment the (generally) female Sandra Bullock fans. As we all know, Sandra Bullock movies usually have fantastic legs (which usually belies their soft openings), so this could easily make it to $150 million by the start of 2010.

2012 dropped 59.5% in weekend two. The disaster epic grossed $26.4 million for a new domestic total of $108 million. On the plus side, the worldwide total is already $450 million for this $260 million-budgeted tentpoler. Sony's Planet 51 weathered terrible reviews to open with $12.2 million. It allegedly only cost $50 million, so it'll do just fine in the long run. It will actually be more harmful to the Sony Animation brand, as the company was riding high on the commercial and critical success of Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs ($122 million domestic gross). This is a bit like Billy Dee Williams following up his turn as Harvey Dent in Batman with Secret Agent Double-O Soul. A Christmas Carol took a 45% hit, which means it will really have to gain ground over the long holiday to close out Thanksgiving weekend with $100 million. It currently stands at $79.8 million. I'm running out of superlatives to use when discussing Precious, so I'll keep it brief. The film expanded to 629 screens and snagged an $10.8 million weekend for fifth place. That's still a scorching $17,300 per screen average. I did not know this, but apparently Oprah Winfrey announced the end of her talk-show on an episode that featured Precious star Gabourey Sidibe as a guest. Well-played, Winfrey. The would-be Oscar contender has now amassed $21 million without an end in sight.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Join us next weekend for the extra-long Thanksgiving holiday. Wide releases will be Ninja Assassin (most redundant title of the year?), Old Dogs and The Fantastic Mr. Fox (which is still stuck on four screens until Wednesday). Keep an eye on the Ninja Assassin numbers, as I'm expecting a decent debut as an offshoot of New Moon's opening. If you're one of the $28.5 million worth of dudes who got dragged to New Moon, could there be any more appropriate payback movie than something called Ninja Assassin? Limited release debuts include Disney's The Princess and the Frog (on two screens, both of which are priced much too high per ticket to take the risk associated with bringing my two-year old), Me and Orson Welles (starring Zac Efron), The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (starring tons of people worth seeing), and The Road. As in be thankful you're not living in Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic hell.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bella is a terrible role model, but would we care if she weren't a girl? Five terrible male role models in guy-centric blockbusters.

As I've written before, whenever any movie not primarily involving white males and/or geek-friendly genres becomes a big hit, the moralizers come out in full force about how dangerous or unhealthy said movie is for the target demo in question. Sex and the City: The Movie presents adult women in a terribly materialistic light so it's just unhealthy. And Precious isn't just about one person in a singular situation. Oh no, Precious is about each and every person who happens to be black, poor, female, or overweight, so it's obviously perpetuating one stereotype or another. And we can't have movies starring black people (Obsessed) that are just as sleazy, trashy, and stupid as the kind of thing that white people take for granted, because we can't present black characters, especially black women, in such an unfashionable light.

Needless to say, this is the kind of thing that the Twilight series has had to deal with. Because the lead of the books (and movies) is a teenage girl, she's been held up or brought down on her ability to be a positive role model for girls everywhere. And since she doesn't always make the healthiest choices possible, she's been condemned as a dangerous role model for young girls, which has been used as a weapon to condemn the series beyond the normal realm of 'are the movies any good?'. Well, I wholeheartedly agree with the naysayers. Bella (played by Kristen Stewart in the films) is a terrible role model for young girls. She constantly needs to be rescued, while being told that she is a danger to herself and others. She falls head over heels with a cold and aloof stranger who keeps her at a distance and constantly warns her that her feminine whiles could cause him to hurt her. She is willing to sacrifice her safety and her family's safety to be with him. Then, when he breaks up with her, she basically becomes suicidal and goes through a physical reaction resembling heroin withdrawal. So yes, Bella is a crappy role model. But, let's take a minute to run down some lead characters in male-driven franchises that also fit the bill. After all, if we're so upset that girls are being represented in a bad light, then should we not be as concerned about the boys? And can I, as a responsible citizen, enjoy these male-dominated blockbusters even though the lead character is a poor example to set for young men everywhere? Oh dear, the conflict!

Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Played by Robert Downey Jr, Tony Stark starts the movie as a greedy, ammoral, self-centered arms dealer who cares not one wit about the destruction and death that his product causes. He uses his friends and co-workers, keeps everyone at a distance, and profits off global strife. After creating a perpetually-rechargeable energy source that basically keeps his own heart beating, what does he do? Does he mass-produce this device and revolutionize the entire energy structure of the planet, causing an end to oil-based wars, planet-wide strife, and climate catastrophe? Nope, he uses it as the main energy source for his own personal play suit, which he builds with the intent to... well, he's not really sure. Sure, he eventually uses this 'iron man' suit to avenge his own kidnapping (which, to be fair, saves countless lives) and take down the corrupt leadership of his own company. But before those circumstances force his hand, Stark doesn't seem to want to use his world-changing technology for anything other than his own selfish whims. What a tool...

Sam Witwicky (Transformers)
While Sam, played by Shia LeBeouf, is generally a decent if obnoxious motor-mouthed teen, he does get one moment of shining douchebaggery. After spending the first 2/3 of the film attempting to win the heart (or other part) of his high-school crush, Sam is shocked... SHOCKED to learn that blue-collar Mikaela (Megan Fox) has a troubled past, mainly that her father is doing time for auto theft. Despite the fact that Sam knew nothing about this girl other than that she was hot, and despite the fact that it was her father and not her who was the primary guilty party, he is furious with her and rudely blows her off for several scenes afterward, until SHE has to apologize to HIM for her father's criminal history. She deserves better and should have dumped his nerdy butt on the spot.

James T. Kirk (Star Trek)
Played by Chris Pine in the JJ Abrams revamp, the legendary starship captain is rebooted as a selfish, obnoxious, entitled prick of a man who feels that he should get whatever he wants because he has daddy issues and comes from famous lineage (sound familiar?). He cheats purely out of spite, uses and harasses his female colleagues, and takes command of the starship from his more logical, intelligent, and principled superior via a virtual coup d'état. (wait a minute...) Sure he saves the day in the end, but it's mainly because the future version of his would-be rival shows up and tells him what to do every step of the way. This new James T Kirk is a schmuck. Jean-Luc never would have tolerated this arrogant little mouth-breather playing captain on his ship.

Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2, and 3)
Sure, he's a delightfully funny cad, played with charm and off-the-wall whimsy by Johnny Depp. But, at the end of the day, he's a pirate. Pirates steal stuff. Pirates rape women and girls. Pirates kill people. Besides, even if we buy that he was a less-evil pirate, his actions in the second and third film belay a nonstop odyssey of treachery, betrayal, and selfish cruelty to the very people who helped win his freedom at the conclusion of the first film. He may not be the worst of the pirates (although even the villainous Barbossa is a 'good guy' in the third film), but he's still a dirty, rotten little scoundrel.

The Jedi (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith)
As a staunch defender of the prequels, I must admit that the Jedi are all complete and total imbeciles. The biggest shock of the new prequels was that the legendary Jedi turned out to be a group of pompous, pretentious, self-defeating, useless idiots who couldn't smell a galaxy-threatening conspiracy that was hatching right underneath their noses. They are also mean and petty. Yoda initially refuses to teach Anakin Skywalker because young Skywalker has the gall to miss his mother. Thirteen-years later, when Anakin tries to confide in Yoda that he fears for the life of his wife and unborn child, Yoda's advice is basically 'people die, shit happens, be one with the Force'. Oh, and Anakin himself? Mitigating circumstances aside, he's still a hotheaded, irrational nutcase who actually has at least one genocidal mass murder under his belt before he even turns to the Dark Side. I repeat, Anakin Skywalker, pre-Dark Side, is already a mass murderer.

Obi-Wan resents having to train this young boy who he doesn't entirely trust, and treats him with condescending scorn during his initial apprenticeship. He also cock-blocks Anakin's pursuit of Padme at every opportunity. Even in the final months before the Jedi are wiped out, he can clearly see that his friend and colleague is in pain and torment. Does he ask him to talk about it? Does he put his arm around Anakin and offer to grab a drink to discuss the somewhat disturbing machinations of both the Jedi Council and Chancellor Palpatine? Does he seek insight from Padme, the woman that he probably knows is secretly married to his close friend? Nope, he just sits back while Anikan gets corrupted by Palpatine and abused by Mace Windu. Oh right, Mace Windu. Aside from bullying and constantly second-guessing every step in Anikan's journey, he also is singlehandedly responsible for Anikan turning to the Dark Side. Well, even after all the abuse and lack of trust thrust upon Skywalker, Anikan still turns to Mace Windu when he discovers that Palpantine is one of them Sith lords. So Windu repays the favor by putting Anikan in the position of having to either stand back as Windu executes a defeated and (apparently) incapacitated subject, or raise arms against his fellow Jedi. Whatever Anikan's reasons for saving the would-be Emperor, he was absolutely in the moral and legal right to stop Windu from slaughtering his surrendered prisoner. Point being, if Yoda, Windu, or any of the Jedi council hadn't acted like rigid, emotionless fundamentalists and hadn't treated Anikan like a contagious disease from his first day at Jedi school, if Obi-Wan had made even the slightest effort to reach out to his troubled friend, then Anikan would have remained merely a Jedi with a murder rap, rather than the key instrument in a plot to overthrow the Republic. Let's be honest. Jedi are losers and terrible role models for our nation's youth.

So let's lay off poor, madly-in-love Bella for the moment. She may be a terrible role model, but she's hardly alone in the world of blockbusters. Compared to a selfish arms-dealer turned selfish energy-hog and monk warriors who have a habit of slaughtering innocents, a naive, romantic teenage girl looks pretty upstanding. Besides, she's a bra-burning feminist compared to the princess in Enchanted, but that's for another day. What is worth noting is that all of the above male characters are basically users and abusers of their friends, family, and lovers. Yet Bella is being attacked in various circles because she basically allows herself to be abused and used. So the question we really ought to be asking ourselves is why we're so intolerant of female characters who get abused, while so gleefully accepting of male characters who do the abusing?

Scott Mendelson

$72.7 million opening day for Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Twilight Saga: New Moon grossed $72.7 million on its first full day of release. This is the biggest single day of all time, besting The Dark Knight's $67 million opening shot back in July of 2008. This is also $3 million more than Twilight grossed in its entire opening weekend. See, this is what happens when you cast Dakota Fanning! Gosh, remember when The Lost World shocked us over Memorial Day weekend of 1997 all by earning $26 million in one day and $72 million in a single weekend? Well, New Moon just grossed $26 million in just midnight and 3am showings, and it clocked $72 million in just the first 24 hours. Why do I feel like Tommy Lee Jones at the end of No Country For Old Men?

Were this any other franchise (aside from maybe Harry Potter), we'd presume that the $158 million Fri-Sun record set by The Dark Knight was pretty much toast. Alas, Twilight's previous opening weekend was the most front-loaded in history (it's still number two behind the Hannah Montana Movie). If we recall, the first Twilight opened with a $35 million Friday (about $7 million worth of midnight screenings) and a $69.6 million three-day take. That was a stunningly low 1.9x multiplier (for newbies, weekend multiplier is the three-day weekend take divided by the opening day gross). Now sequels are more frontloaded than originals as a rule (has there ever been a sequel that had a less front-loaded opening weekend than its predecessor?), so one presumes that the best New Moon can hope for is another 1.9x weekend, which would equal about $138 million. That would make it the third-biggest opening weekend of all-time, behind The Dark Knight ($158 million), Spider-Man 3 ($151 million). Of course, any additional frontloading would probably knock it down below the $135 million opening sprint of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, but above the $122 million weekend for Shrek the Third. But fear not Team Edward, Team Jacob, or Team Bella (or Team Dakota), it could do a pathetic 1.5x multiplier and still top the three-day $108 million Fri-Sun gross of Transfomers: Revenge of the Fallen, which would give it the biggest opening weekend of 2009. It is also guaranteed to claim the record for the biggest non-summer opening of all time. To paraphrase The Lost World: Congratulations, now you're Harry Potter.

The film grossed $26 million in midnight sneaks and $46 million in traditional Friday showtimes. Comparatively, The Dark Knight grossed $18 million in sneaks and $47 million in normal business hours. Over the last twenty years, there have been only three other pictures that have shattered the single-day record without claiming the opening weekend title. All were in the last five years, all of them opened on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and all of them were on the same pre-Memorial Day weekend. Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace opened in 1999 on a Wednesday with a record $28 million, but ended up with a Fri-Sun take of $64 million (the five-day take was a then-record $105 million). Shrek 2 opened on a Wednesday in 2004 and made just $20 million in its first two days. However, the film exploded over its Fri-Sun portion, grossing $28 million on Friday, $34 million on Sunday, and a record $44 million right in between. Alas, its three-day take was $108 million and not enough to beat Spider-Man's $114 million. Now you know why I consider Shrek 2 to be an anomaly when discussing five-day openings, as it opened with a slightly higher Wednesday than Pokemon The Movie but ended up with a $129 million five-day gross. And, finally, in 2005, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith opened on a Thursday to the first $50 million single day in history, but it's Fri-Sun portion was 'only' $108 million. Amusingly, its first actual three days - Thurs, Fri, Sat - actually grossed $123 million, more than Spider-Man's $114 million record at the time. But, should New Moon fail to surpass $158.4 million (and it probably will miss the mark, it has to achieve a 2.2x multiplier), it will be the first film in history to break the single-day record on a traditional Fri-Sun opening and not take the three-day title.

Still, let's not make this 'it won't break the opening weekend record' look like anything resembling failure. This adaptation of a popular young-adult book series just outgrossed The Golden Compass and The Spiderwick Chronicles in one day. It surpassed the opening weekend of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in one day. It has a plausible chance of surpassing the entire domestic gross of Prince Caspian in three or four days. I'm not going to embarrass those involved with The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising by pulling up those numbers. On second thought... oh... $8.9 million... poor Susan Cooper. As far as franchises in the last ten years, it will have one of the biggest opening-weekend upswings from first film to second film in modern history. The biggest shot of pain has to be felt at Fox, where everyone knows full well that Avatar will be happy to gross $72 million over it's entire weekend. The record for a no-star, no major franchise opening is 300, with $70 million. If you don't count the bible as a prior franchise, then The Passion of the Christ wins at $83 million. Or if you count the bible and the cult comic book 300 as a prior source, then The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 win the day, with $68 million and $65 million respectively. Either way, Cameron's game-changer just got smashed by a $50 million gothic romance aimed at teen girls, the very audience that helped propel Titanic into the record books.

OK, there will be more tomorrow when the weekend figures are released (it might be a little late, due to family commitments). Heck, New Moon might even break that three-day record, rendering much of the above relatively moot. In the meantime, let's also give props to Sandra Bullock, whose real-life drama The Blind Side took in $11 million yesterday. Before this year, Bullock had never had a $20 million opener in her life. Now it looks like she may have two $30 million openers just this year.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Moon grosses $26 million in midnight screenings.

Wow. In just midnight (and slightly after midnight) screenings, Twilight Saga: New Moon grossed a whopping $26.27 million. That best the $22.2 million midnight record set by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince back in July. Heck, it's just $9 million less than Twilight took in over its first full day this weekend last year. Of course, after the obscene frontloading of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($58 million opening day, $157 five-day opening weekend), I'm reluctant to make any weekend predictions until we get a look at the Friday numbers. But a $55-$65 million opening day seems to be in order (The Dark Knight's $67 million single-day record may be in jeopardy). Of course, it has to gross at least $52 million today to make it to $100 million with the same 1.9 multiplier as Twilight. Even the 9pm Twilight screenings grossed $1.3 million for the night (it was number two for the whole day of Tuesday the 19th). We'll know more late tonight or early tomorrow, but this is going to be a big, big (and massively frontloaded weekend). The full weekend is going to be quite interesting to dissect when the time comes. Fun!

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ten years later, Fight Club is still better than American Beauty

Even ten years later, I remain puzzled and annoyed by the critical community's welcome embrace of American Beauty and shunning of Fight Club. They both deal with many of the same themes and cultural ideas. Yet American Beauty allows the flawed anti-hero to die a 'tragic' death and escape having to deal with the consequences of his actions (deleted scenes imply that he still goes to heaven). While the allegedly immoral and dangerous Fight Club ends with Tyler basically admitting he screwed up and taking a baby step to do better (of course, most Fincher films deal with characters finally accepting and welcoming personal responsibility for their poor life choices).

Scott Mendelson

And so it ends...

It's good to see the two key characters, Locke and Ben, finally taking center stage. Swoon all you want over Kate/Jack or Juliet/Sawyer, but the most interesting and entertaining relationship has always been between Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson (no wonder that they've both won Emmys). I still say that Ben Linus and John Locke need to be spun-off into their own sitcom. "Can two cryptic, fanatical would-be prophets escape from a cursed magical island and share a studio apartment together in the big-city without driving each other crazy? Find out this season as ABC presents Found, starting on Wednesdays after Modern Family." You all know you'd watch it.

The official Twilight Saga: New Moon weekend box office prediction.

Based on my top-secret, patented box office estimation formula, I hereby state that Twilight Saga: New Moon will gross $81 million over its first three days. No... wait, it will actually gross $91 million! It will definitely gross $81 million and/or $91 million! How do I know this? Simple. To quote everyone's favorite fictional Spanish teacher, played by Dr. Ken Jeong, I am a box office genius! If you recall, I did a comparison chart of every single franchise launched in the last ten years. I listed every single one unless I'm forgetting a franchise or two and how their sequels did over opening weekend compared to the initial entries. Go there. Checked it out yet?

Ok, welcome back. You'll notice that the biggest percentage jump for pure Fri-Sun stand-alone opening weekends for the first and second film in a franchise is the Harold and Kumar series. Harold and Kumar Goes To White Castle (the best comedy of the decade and one of the finest films made about race relations, but more on that next month) opened with just $5.4 million in its three-day opening weekend. It's terrible sequel, Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay opened to $14.9 million. That's a jump of 276% between films. On the other hand, the biggest decline in sequel opening weekends over the last ten years was suffered by Hostel 2. Hostel 2 opened to only $8.2 million, or just 42% of what the original Hostel opened with 18 months earlier ($19.5 million).

Ok, so using the awesome power of math (this is the part on Numbers where my floating head starts pointing at random variables and data points on a black screen), I took 2.76 and multiplied it by 0.42. That gives me approximately 1.16. So, it stands that the opening weekend for New Moon will surpass the opening weekend of Twilight by about 16%. OK, so 1.16 x $69.6 million = $81 million. Or, you can add up all the percentages of the pure Fri-Sun stand-alone weekend increases, which gets you 32.61. Divide that by the 25 films. That gets you 1.3044. Multiply that figure by 69.6 and you get a probable opening weekend gross of $91 million. So there you have it... Twilight Saga: New Moon will officially gross either $81 million or $91 million over its opening weekend. Read it and weep, Nielsen, CinemaScore, and/or Nikki Finke!

Scott Mendelson

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