Sunday, January 31, 2010

Avatar wins weekend, reaches major milestone (again). Weekend box office (01/31/10).

Avatar won the box office derby for the seventh straight weekend, taking the record for the biggest seventh weekend gross ($30 million) from Titanic ($25 million). Dropping just 14%, the unstoppable monster has now grossed $594 million, meaning it will cross Titanic's $600 million gross in the next 2-3 days, perhaps on the very day (Tuesday the 2nd) that the Oscar nominations are announced. Early last week, it surpassed Titanic's worldwide box office gross to become the world's highest-grossing movie. This weekend it crossed the seemingly unfathomable $2 billion mark worldwide. You can babble all you want about inflation, 3D and IMAX ticket prices, and what have you to your hearts' content, but check out this little statistic: When Avatar reaches $2.239 billion, which it will in the next two or three weeks, it will have doubled the worldwide take of every other movie ever made except Titanic. It will also soon have an over $1 billion lead over any movie not directed by James Cameron. There's not much more to say at this point than 'wow' and don't make a sequel, so let's move on...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

If you don't quit while you're ahead... Why we don't need an Avatar sequel.

We never got a sequel to ET: The Extra Terrestrial. We never had to sit through a strained next chapter to Titanic. We never suffered through a film adaptation of the alleged wretched Forrest Gump and Company. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of studios and unimaginative executives, we are spared unnecessary sequels, spin-offs, and prequels for films that made lots of money the first time around. So yes, it is possible for filmmakers to just walk away for the good of the property. With news that Avatar has crossed $2 billion in worldwide box office and has been nominated for nine Academy Awards, the people behind this monumental achievement are quickly putting their eggs in line for the next installment. I rather loved Avatar. I've defended it from charges that it was merely a 3D special effects exercise, and I've defended it from charges that its box office glory was somehow fraudulent. But I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to see a sequel.

"My name is Barack Obama and I AM the president."

This is pretty long, but it's well worth at least sampling. Where has this Barack Obama been for the last year? Enjoy and remember for a bit why you voted for him in the first place.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Little Fockers switches release from July 30th to December 22nd.

Deciding that what worked so well last time will work again this time, Universal has moved Little Fockers from its July 30th release date smack dab into Christmas weekend, or December 22nd.  I'm assuming this might have something to do with better than expected in-house buzz for Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, which will now open on August 13th.  It might also have something to do with the fact that Meet the Fockers parlayed a Christmas weekend release in 2004 into a mammoth $279 million domestic gross, which makes it the second highest-grossing comedy of all-time behind Home Alone ($285 million).

Furry Vengence gets a trailer.

This looks pretty silly, but hopefully it will be closer in quality to George of the Jungle than Dudley Do-Right.  Fraser does this kind of thing better than anyone else, and the casting of other funny people (Ken Jeong, Brooke Shields, and Angela Kinsey) gives a token amount of hope.  Furry Vengeance just got moved from April 2nd to April 30th, so if you can drop off your kids while you go relieve your own childhood with the Nightmare On Elm Street remake.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Review: District 13: Ultimatum (2010)

District 13: Ultimatum
101 minutes
Rated R
Opens in limited theatrical release on February 5th.  Now available on participating On Demand services.

by Scott Mendelson

The original District 13 was not a particularly great movie, but it was a true original and had much to admire.  It contained doozy of a first act, style to spare, and a genuinely angry political subtext at its core.  Much of the film's appeal came from its use of 'parkour', a martial art form that stressed evasive action via adapting one's body to the environment.  In practice, it gave way to several scenes of stars David Belle (the creator of parkour) and Cyril Raffaelli hopping off walls, flying through open holes, and contorting themselves in any which way in order to save the proverbial day.  While the film inexplicably put its two major action scenes in the first act of the picture, the remainder of the film got by on slimy villains and its grimy depiction of a nearly apocalyptic French ghetto.  Unfortunately, this sequel coasts by on even less than that, as the villains are bland, quirky supporting characters are non-existent, and the action scenes are surprisingly lacking, both in quantity and quality.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Surprise (not really)! Warner Bros to release Clash of the Titans in 3D.

As expected by everyone and their sister, Warner Bros. will push the release date of Clash of the Titans back to April 2nd, so as not to directly compete with Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon on March 26th.  As equally expected, Warner has decided to convert the 2D picture to 3D, which is the primary reason for the date change.  Also being more or less confirmed is the equally obvious choice that Warner Bros is going to convert Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts I and II into 3D as well.  The last two films each had about fifteen minutes worth of 3D footage (way before it was cool), so this seems like a pretty obvious next step.  Come what may, it looks like Avatar really did turn out to be a game changer after all.

Don't be stupid twice. Whip It on DVD/Blu Ray today.

There was no more heartbreaking box office failure this year than the flopping of Drew Barrymore's Whip It.  I'm not going to reiterate the hows and whys of its collapse, but I will again state that it's a wonderful piece of mainstream entertainment, with rock-solid acting, low-key writing, and a wonderful sense of time and place.  It's one of the year's best films and it's on DVD and Blu Ray today (alas the discs contain only deleted scenes).  You probably missed it theaters, so don't make the same mistake twice.

Scott Mendelson

Whaa? Lionsgate steals Kevin Greutert back for Saw VII.

PREVIOUSLY... on Saw Vs. Paranormal Activity:
Last week, I reported that Paramount had hired Kevin Gruetert, helmer of Saw VI, to direct Paranormal Activity 2. I remarked at the oddity of the situation, as Paranormal Activity has crushed Saw VI (available today on DVD and Blu Ray) at the box office and Lionsgate had instead brought back David Hackl for Saw VII, despite Hackl's Saw V being one of the worst films in the Saw franchise. So Gruetert, who had directed perhaps the best Saw film yet, was snapped up by Paramount to helm the sequel to their new competing horror franchise. Well last night, things got a whole lot weirder.

Review: Edge of Darkness (2010)

Edge of Darkness
118 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

If Martin Campbell's Edge of Darkness were released in the 1970s or even the early 1980s, it would have been accepted as a thriller. But, by today's standards, it qualifies a drama with occasional bursts of violence. Foolishly mis-marketed as a riff on Taken, this film is not a thrill-a-minute action picture but rather a slow and sobering story about crippling grief. Based on a 1985 BBC miniseries (also directed by Campbell and pretty terrific in its own specific way), this project was tailored made for Mel Gibson and he does the material proud. In a season where some of our best talents (Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski) have crashed and burned with critical disappointments, Martin Campbell delivered a genuinely compelling B-movie that emphasized character and story over visceral thrills.

Number 01 worldwide in 38 days. Avatar breaks Titanic's worldwide record.

I was sure it would never be done in my lifetime. I called in the 'Joe DiMaggio 56-game hitting streak' of box office records. But it has been done. In just 38 days, James Cameron's Avatar has surpassed the $1.843 billion that James Cameron's Titanic amassed in its 41 weeks of theatrical play. We can argue all we want about 3D prices and general ticket price inflation, but this is an incredible feat in any filmgoing era, let alone our splintered generation. Today's audiences have far more entertainment options to keep them out of the theaters. Back in Christmas 1997 and Winter 1998, the Internet was barely in its infancy, bootlegs of any kind were a non-factor, and DVDs barely on the radar. Just as no one expects the season finale of Lost to match the numbers for the finale of MASH, today's moviegoers are far more divided and have far more entertainment options that they did even twelve years ago. I don't think anyone thought Titanic's worldwide record would be topped within a generation. No one thought it would be done so quickly, and by the same filmmaker no less. This is absolutely astonishing, all the more so for the fact that it's not anywhere close to being finished. While the domestic numbers may be curbed by the inevitable loss of IMAX and 3D screens, the international numbers have no real ceiling at this point. Avatar has grossed $1.304 billion in overseas markets alone. There are only four other movies that have ever grossed even half that in overseas receipts. Avatar has today grossed $1.859 billion in global grosses. There are only eight other films that have grossed at least $929 million worldwide, or half that number. Who knows where this movie will stop? Amazing...

Scott Mendelson

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review: Legion (2010)

100 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

There's not very much wrong with Legion, except that it chooses to tell the wrong story and barely has the resources to tell the narrative that it chooses.  The idea of God finally becoming fed up with humanity and launching an extermination is an intriguing one, the kind of thing that brings to mind epic-scale apocalyptic carnage.  Yet the world of Legion primarily exists in a single roadside diner and it tells the tale of but a handful of victims of God's initial wrath.  This is certainly not the first film to tell of world-changing events from the point of view of a single group of isolated characters (Signs, Pontypool, Cloverfield, etc), but this is the first one of this sub-genre which seems to base its storytelling decisions on budgetary limitations. 

The 100 'cheesiest' movie lines of all time?

I'm not sure where this person found the time, but this is awfully fun to watch.  I'd argue that it concentrates too heavily on a few films (Batman & Robin, The Wicker Man, Revenge of the Sith), or that some of the clips (Fellowship of the Ring, Face/Off, Jerry Maguire) make perfect emotional sense in their proper context, but why nitpick?  My favorite excerpt comes at 6:46, which is one of the most inexplicable exchanges in cinema history.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Avatar now #02 in US, with no signs of slow down. Weekend box office in review (01/24/10)

It was business as usual this weekend, with Avatar again leading the pack and a well-marketed newcomer fairing well in number two. There was a genuine Golden Globes bump this weekend, with all of the big winners showing much smaller drops than last weekend. Still, the story again is all about Avatar. The big engine that could crossed dropped just 16% in its sixth weekend, taking in $36 million for a record sixth weekend (Titanic had the previous sixth-weekend record with $25 million). Its new domestic total is $552 million. Yup, it crossed $533 million sometime yesterday afternoon, so it has now surpassed The Dark Knight as the second-highest grossing film in the US. And there's a pretty decent chance that it will close out the month of January by toppling Titanic's $600.7 million record. Internationally, at $1.836 billion, it's just a skip and a jump away from Titanic's seemingly insurmountable $1.842 billion worldwide record. Wow... just wow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Avatar featurette on motion-capture acting.

I still contend that Zoe Saldana deserves an Oscar nomination, as her emotionally powerful work as Netyri is a big reason why Avatar works as more than a special effects spectacle.  This terrific little featurette is probably too late to affect the Academy voting process, but it should do much to dispel the notion that motion-capture work isn't 'real acting'.

Scott Mendelson 

President Barack Obama and Senator Russ Feingold speak out on Supreme Court's Decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

On the plus side, the outrage from today's insane Supreme Court ruling seems to be pretty wide-spread.  Here's hoping they act on the words below:

Supreme Court opens floodgates for unlimited corporate political donations.

This isn't a left/right issue. If this decision stands, democracy is finished, period.  Not only will corporations be able to donate unlimited amounts of money for or against any candidate they choose (in the form of unlimited campaign ads at any time during the election season), but they can continue to enforce their will during the off-season via the threat of billions of dollars worth of issue ads or direct election ads directed at any particular politician. Imagine $10 billion worth of political ads bombing the airwaves just a week before the mid-term elections, all coming from a single corporation and advocating a specific viewpoint on a candidate or ballot initiative. When corporations control the outcome of the political process, that's called fascism. I wish I were exaggerating, but this is really, really bad

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

NBC's Late-Night War II explained in computer animation.

As much as I'd love to know what's actually being said, the visuals speak for themselves. Enjoy...

Okay... here's the English version. Frankly, it's funnier when you just have the visuals.

Scott Mendelson

Macgruber gets a trailer.. and it's actually kinda funny?

If you're going to do a cheap cash-in, this is how you do it. You hire real actors (Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Ryan Phillippe), you set the film in something resembling the real world, and you make it look shiny and expensive. I must concede that I chuckled at least three times in this trailer, which was about three more than I was expecting. Kilmer has always been undervalued as a comedian, so it should be a blast to watch him ham it up as the heavy. Oddly enough, the film feels less like a riff on Macgyver and more like a spoof of 24, which is arguably a more topical reference template anyway. Still, while others may be hoping for a Richard Dean Anderson cameo (hopefully looking healthier than he did on his March 2009 SNL appearance), I'd personally flip for a climactic Michael Des Barres reveal. If you don't know who that is, you probably never watched Macgyver.

Scott Mendelson

Holy Sh^#@, Batman! Someone has way too much time on their hands.

Wow... just wow. Someone has far more time on their hands than I do, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. The sad part is, I actually can pick out the episodes for many of these. I still contend that the original 1960s Batman series was a masterpiece of pop art, but this is pretty amusing regardless. Enjoy.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Irony of the day - Saw VI director Kevin Greutert to direct Paranormal Activity 2

So let me get this straight... Kevin Greutert more or less saves the Saw series by making one of the, if not THE best installment in the long-running series and pulling the franchise out of a two-film artistic slump. But, the film more or less flops, taking in less overall ($27.5 million) than the previous sequels grossed in their opening weekends. Lionsgate, in their infinite wisdom, chooses not to bring back Greutert to direct the next chapter (Saw VII in 3D). No, instead they rehire David Hackl, the man responsible for Saw V, the least-liked film in the franchise (it was a better film than IV, but was slow and cheap-looking). But it gets better. Remember that other horror movie that went wide over Saw VI's opening weekend? That $15,000 glorified home movie that scared the pants off of unsuspecting teenagers and absolutely crushed Saw VI the weekend before Halloween? Yeah, well, guess who's being hired to direct Paranormal Activity 2?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Avatar remains unstoppable, crossing $500 million, while The Book of Eli impresses. Weekend box office review for 01/18/10.

Wow, this is my 1000th post on Mendelson's Memos. Yay for me. Anyway, I've written a bit about Avatar's unstoppable run elsewhere, so I won't repeat myself too much here. For the record, the James Cameron Golden-Globe winner dropped just 15% in weekend five, for a $42.8 million three-day take and a $54.6 million four-day take. The previous record for a fifth weekend was Titanic's $30 million take. Each of Avatar's three January weekends ($68 million, $50 million, and now $41 million) have scored the top three January weekends of all time. The next biggest is Cloverfield's $40 million opening from 2008. Its new total is $505 million. The film has topped the $500 million mark in just 32 days, twelve days less than The Dark Knight's milestone. At this rate, it will sail past Titanic's $600 million domestic gross by either the end of January or beginning of February. At well over $1.6 billion in worldwide grosses, it is less than $200 million away from Titanic's unfathomable $1.8 billion total. Frankly, there are only so many different ways to say "holy f&^!ing sh$&!", so let's move on.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Coming Full Circle. Films I forced my folks to watch over and over as a kid.

My two-year old just watched Finding Nemo yesterday morning... for the second time in three days. Despite never having seen the movie, she has known who Nemo is and what he looks like for the last few months. Considering that her mother drags us to Disneyland at every possible opportunity (thank you, financially-reasonable season pass), it's no surprise that Allison already has a working knowledge of the Disney universe. Of course, that also means it's time to start introducing her to Looney Tunes, as no child of mine is going to grow up preferring Mickey Mouse over Bugs Bunny (preferring Donald to Daffy is... acceptable). So, pardon the digression, we were out and about and decided to buy a stuffed Nemo plush toy from the Disney Store (Allison got the Nemo, Wendy got her Ham plush), so we decided to see if Allison would sit through the full-length movie at home. The good news is that Allison loved it, eagerly watching and following the narrative ("Where's Nemo's mommy?", Allison annoyingly asked after the mass-murder prologue). The bad news is that she wanted to watch it again yesterday morning.

Avatar's box office - it's not about what, but about how.

Much of the discussion of Avatar's record-run has focused on the 'asterisk factor'. In that, no matter how much Avatar has made right now, it doesn't really count as impressive because A) inflation means older hit films have sold more tickets and B) the 3D and IMAX ticket-price bump negates the record-setting nature of the numbers. But those who carp at this point are missing two very important factors. Avatar is showing consistency unlike any event film in recent memory, and it's not even close to finished.

Blu Ray Review: Whiteout (2009)

100 minutes
Rated R (for violence, grisly images, brief strong language, and some nudity)
Available from Warner Home Video on January 12th on DVD, Blu Ray, iTunes, and OnDemand.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Leno takes it on the chin, yet again...

While everyone is discussing the question/answer session that Jimmy Kimmel did on Leno's show last night, I'm more impressed with the sheer simplicity and brutality of this quickie Late Show With David Letterman piece. Which do you prefer?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blu Ray Review: The Invention of Lying (2009)

The Invention of Lying
099 minutes
Rated PG-13
Available 01/19/10 from Warner Home Video on DVD, Blu Ray, OnDemand, and iTunes.

by Scott Mendelson

The Invention of Lying is a film that trades in one simplification for another and fails to fully explore either of the two concepts that it pertains to be about. On the surface, it concerns an alternate universe where not one does no one lie, but everyone pretty much speaks whatever happens to be on their mind. This leads to simplistic scenes of waiters wantonly insulting their patrons, co-workers brutally berating their fellow employees, and hospital staff giving brutally honest medical diagnosis to their doomed patients. Cute, but the film never really explores whether or not society could actually function in a world where everyone simply blurted out their inter-most thoughts, be they sexual fantasies or irrational fears.

Rumor finally becomes fact: Iron Man 2 to open in IMAX.

To the surprise of six, possibly seven people, IMAX finally confirmed that Jon Favreau's Iron Man sequel will be debuting on May 7th in both regular 35mm and IMAX formats. This had been discussed as far back as September, 2008, but countless bookings (Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Inception, Tron 2.0, etc) were set in stone while the fate of Tony Stark's IMAX debut was an open question. I can only presume that Iron Man 2 will have an abbreviated two-week IMAX run before being replaced by Shrek: Happily Forever After (opening May 21st). Of course, since Shrek 4 and Iron Man 2 are both Paramount releases, we'll see if there is any kind of split tickets. Don't be surprised to see Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience held over for late-night showings after the opening weekend of Shrek 4.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Guest Essay - A perspective on Precious from someone who's seen the real thing.

This is a guest commentary/essay from Dana Curcio Shaffer, editor for the Bedford Times Register and wife of DVD Future's RL Shaffer. While there have been countless essays written about Lee Daniels's Precious over the last three months, here is a perspective that I have not read before. I'm a little light on real content due to my work schedule, so lucky for me this happens to be a rather poignant piece of work. Please enjoy.

Review: The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli
118 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

The biggest surprise of The Book of Eli is that it is a real movie. We have become somewhat used to the idea of big-budget genre pictures often being exercises in style and/or non-stop action. But the Hughes Brothers' newest entry (their first in eight years) is in fact a real film, with ideas, character-development, and an emphasis on mood and tone over action spectacle. Those expecting a thrill-a-minute adventure picture will be sorely disappointed. While flawed and glacially-paced, the newest Denzel Washington film is a refreshing genre picture, a genuinely satisfying B-movie that actually has something on its mind.

Missed opportunities...

I guess we'll never know...

If Batman Begins had ended like Sherlock Holmes...

Obviously, spoiler warning for Sherlock Holmes and Batman Begins...

Batman: Escalation?
Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds.
Batman: And?
Gordon: And *you're* wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops. Now, take this guy: armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.
[Gordon presents Batman with a clear plastic evidence bag containing what appears to be a single playing card; Batman turns it over to reveal a 'joker']
Batman: I'll look into it.
Gordon: Oh, you'll do more than look into it. Word on the street is that he calls himself 'The Joker'.
Batman: The Joker? That sounds scary.
Gordon: He's one terrifying son of a bitch. Completely insane, face bleached white, hair bright green, with a blood-red grin from ear to ear.
Batman: Looks like a clown, eh?
Gordon: That's right, Batman. That's J-O-K-E-R.
Batman: Oh my God. I think I just wet my pants, Jim.
Gordon: Oh, you'll crap your pants when you first meet this diabolical foe. He's just as brilliant as you, but far more evil.
Batman: Well, I wouldn't exactly call myself evil, but I get your point.
Gordon: I hope you do, Batman. In fact, he's poisoning the Gotham water supply as we speak.
Batman: Wow... that IS evil! I hope he doesn't turn into my arch-nemesis or something.
Gordon: Be careful Batman. And don't you dare underestimate... The Joker!
Batman: Well, I think I can handle him, Jim. But... [Batman turns to face the screen, points his finger at the audience] can you?

The End.

The terrible lesson that 'Is Sherlock Holmes gay?' teaches.

It has always bothered me to no end how pundits and critics go nuts with the 'hidden gay subtext' thing anytime a movie or TV show presents two men as being friends in any way. Be it Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watston, Frodo and Sam, Bert and Ernie, or Batman and Robin, anytime two male characters have a strong bond or genuine friendship, it surely must be some kind of secret 'gay thing'. Sure, some of it is just frat-boy humor, but the serious discussion (including from the star of the project in question), that takes place around the notion is frankly damaging to society as a whole. At its core, this kind of discourse basically teaching males (specifically young men) that showing any type of friendships and/or emotion towards another male makes you 'gay'.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Raimi/Maguire off Spider-Man 4, complete series reboot for 2012.

With countless rumors of script delays, script issues, and a tug-of-war between the movie that Sam Raimi wanted to make and the movie that Sony wanted, the Spider-Man franchise as we know it is no more. Deciding that he'd rather make no Spider-Man film than make a bad one, Sam Raimi has walked off the project and Toby Maguire has followed him. Sony will now reboot the entire franchise, for a whole-new Part One set for summer, 2012. I'm sure we'll learn more about what went down in the coming weeks, but the general consensus was that Raimi was not happy with the screenplay, with the director and the suits fighting over the choice of villains. Among other issues of contention, Raimi allegedly wanted the Lizard, while Sony wanted someone with a human face. All of this squabbling threatened the all-important release date, so Sony made the decision to let Raimi walk and start from scratch. God forbid that the director who made you zillions of dollars be allowed to keep making you zillions unmolested.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Another weekend, another Avatar record session. Weekend box office review (01/10/10)

This is almost getting boring. Yes, Avatar grossed $50 million this weekend, nearly doubling the fourth-weekend record (Spider-Man and Titanic both grossed $28 million in their fourth weekends). Yes, it dropped a mere 26% in its first non-holiday weekend. Yes, it's now at $430 million, the seventh-biggest domestic grosser of all time in just under a month. And no, it probably won't be slowing down as next weekend is another holiday weekend, so we can expect to see another sub-30% drop. By the end of Martin Luther King day weekend, it'll likely surpass Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace ($431 million), ET: The Extra Terrestrial, Shrek 2 ($441 million) and Star Wars ($461 million) to become the third-biggest domestic grosser of all time. So at this point, the only questions remaining are whether it can surpass the $533 million gross of The Dark Knight (probably) and the $600 million gross of Titanic (possibly, especially if Oscar smiles accordingly). With $1.33 billion in the worldwide bank, it is just over $500 million away from breaking Titanic's seemingly unsinkable $1.8 billion record. You can babble on about inflation all you want, but at the rate this thing is going, it could very well break both of Titanic's records and just keep on going. Because, I've never ever seen legs and constancy like this, not since Titanic at best. Whichever movie eventually takes Avatar out of the top spot will likely become the answer to a trivia question, just like Lost in Space.

Blake Lively cast as Carol Ferris in Martin Campbell's Green Lantern.

I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, Blake Lively is a pretty solid actress. I've never watched Gossip Girl, so I can't judge her from that popular series. But I can say that she was quite terrific in her debut film, The Sisterhood of the the Traveling Pants. Yes, she is a knock out and that hasn't hurt her career, but she has the chops if the material is worth her while. And she apparently impressed not just with her audition, but with her work in Ben Affleck's next film, The Town. After Gone Baby Gone, I'm officially a big fan of director Ben Affleck).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

George Lucas on the Daily Show.

This is pretty funny stuff, and it's obvious that Lucas feels comfortable bantering with Stewart. Stewart and Lucas are both dead-on regarding which generation likes which Star Wars incarnations the best. It's the same phenomenon as the James Bond series. My wife is just old enough to have grown up with the Roger Moore series. Thus, she prefers Roger Moore, even to the point of choosing A View to a Kill as her favorite 007 adventure (you have no idea the looks and comments I get from everyday people when I reveal that shocking fact). Conversely, the first James Bond film I ever saw was The Living Daylights, so I've always had a soft spot for the tough-as-nails Timothy Dalton and his somewhat more down-to-Earth adventures. Lucas knew darn well he wasn't making The Phantom Menace for the college kids and and 30-something fans of the original trilogy. He was making a gateway film, a way to introduce the Star Wars mythology to a whole new generation of five to eight year-olds who would then follow this new trilogy with the same fanaticism that we nerds followed the originals. That the new trilogy didn't quite become the cultural milestones that their predecessors did has as much to do with unexpected competition (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the comic-book adaptation explosion of the last decade) as with any genuine issues with the films' quality. Point being, we can all argue over which Star Wars film was best (cough-Revenge of the Sith-cough), and which was worst (nostalgia aside, I actually prefer Phantom Menace to A New Hope). But all six movies were at least pretty darn great, and the Clone Wars cartoon is pretty terrific too. If you want to sit in the corner and whine about how George Lucas raped your childhood, well, you're only cheating yourself.

Scott Mendelson

Conan O'Brian addresses 'rumors' of NBC's late-night future.

The A-Team gets a trailer.

I know many of you watched this yesterday, but I wanted to wait until a higher-quality version was available. I was never a hardcore fan of The A-Team, but this whole trailer brought a big stupid grin to my face. Kudos to whomever cut this spot, for not trying to outsmart yourselves. You've got a perfectly catchy theme song and a pitch-perfect bit of exposition straight from the source, so that's all you need. The cast is wonderful, the chemistry seems spot on, and the action seems to be following the 'no harm, no foul' tone of the original series. I do hope the nutso final action beat isn't a climax spoiler. As always, two questions remain. Will the A-Team kill anyone? They never could in the series because they were already wanted for a murder they didn't commit ("Well boys, you've been cleared of the murder of your superior officer, but we need to talk to you about two dozen other unexplained deaths over the last four years."). Secondly, the narration makes it very clear that you can HIRE the A-Team. So, will they actually get paid for any of their mercenary work this time around? Will they actually bill any of their clients for once? And if not, will the movie explain how they afford luxuries such as food and shelter? Such important questions that will hopefully be answered when Joe Carnahan's The A-Team opens on June 10th, 2010.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kick Ass gets a full trailer.

We've finally got a green-band, full-length trailer for the allegedly fantastic Kick-Ass. Nothing we haven't seen before, just a bit of first-act exposition, a look at Mark Strong's lead bad guy, more Nicolas Cage, and just a token amount of character development. I'm not getting much of a buzz from these trailers, although this may be the kind of film that just can't advertise its R-rated humor and/or is refusing to spoil the best bits in the trailer (they couldn't find a better bumper gag?). Regardless, you can't accuse Lionsgate of not pushing this one as hard as possible. I presume they'll start screening the film right after the Oscars.

Scott Mendelson

Be careful what you wish for...

When NBC announced back in September, 2004 that Conan O'Brian would take over The Tonight Show in six years time, I thought to myself that it was a shame that we wouldn't get a repeat of the 1992 talk-show wars (among the dead - Arsenio Hall and Chevy Chase). Little did I know that NBC could be trusted to get themselves into an even bigger pickle this time around. But, it must be said, this astounding mess isn't Jay Leno's fault and it certainly isn't Conan O'Brian's fault. Regardless of what you may think of Leno, he's not the villain here. I'd imagine that most of us would have a tough time turning down a daily 10pm hour-long talk show. It was NBC that was so afraid to lose Leno to a rival network that they pretty much cannibalized their own network to do it. And it was NBC that announced back in 2004 that Leno would step down from The Tonight Show, without even bothering to inquire whether Leno would be ready to retire or whether the show would even need a replacement host in five-years time.

She's Out of My League gets a trailer.

Yes, this trailer looks pretty weak. But the interesting thing is that Krysten Ritter (Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Breaking Bad) is apparently becoming the next Judy Greer. By which I mean, you have the best friend of the lead female who is prettier, funnier, more charming, and seemingly smarter than the chief romantic interest (she recently played the best pal in Confessions of a Shopaholic). Obviously this is a matter of personal preference, but, current family circumstances aside, I personally would befriend, date, court, and/or screw Krysten Ritter over lead Alice Eve each and every day of the week. Just like I'd pick Judy Greer over Jeniffer Aniston (Love Happens), Karthyn Heigl (27 Dresses), or Dallas Bryce Howard (The Village). Please pardon one of my least profound posts ever. On a related note, is there any Buffy nerd who would pick Buffy over Willow?.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A couple days old - Scott Mendelson is interviewed on BBC World News Radio concerning Avatar's billion-dollar sprint.

This clip is from a radio interview I participated in on Sunday afternoon. I wasn't able to get a specific cut of just my interview, but click on the logo above for the link. I pop up at the 39-minute mark and babble on for about three minutes or so. Again, I liked the interview now more than when I listened to it. I hit a wall a couple times, and I think I mispronounced Coraline, but otherwise I really enjoy doing this kind of thing. Hope you like it.

Scott Mendelson

#2 in just 3 weeks: Avatar passes Return of the King in global box office.

In just three weeks, James Cameron's Avatar has become the second-highest grossing movie of all time in worldwide receipts. As of yesterday, the sci-fi epic has grossed $1.131 billion, surpassing the $1.119 billion earned by Peter Jackson's (admittedly superior) Lord of the Rings finale. Whether or not it can find another $711 million to challenge Titanic at this point is unlikely but frighteningly plausible. I'm pretty sure Cameron would be just fine with the order as it is right now. Domestically, the film is at $375 million, with the big long-term test coming this weekend with its first non-holiday-infused weekend since the debut Fri-Sun. Grossing another $225 million domestic in this moviegoing environment is unlikely, even with a relatively weak January slate. But I'm sure Cameron will be more than happy to gross 'just' another $158 million and surpass The Dark Knight as the number 02 domestic grosser of all time. I'll be honest... I never saw this coming. Sure, I was expecting a mega-hit and possibly some Oscar love, but not this, not again. Even after the reviews, I never imagined that James Cameron would pull off the impossible twice in a row. Amazing.

Scott Mendelson

Using sex to sell Thor.

To put it bluntly, this costly and risky star-filled epic probably ought to be selling the sex factor. More so than most tenpolers, there is literally something for every sexual preference. You've got hunky young men (Chris Hensworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as the evil Loki), hot young women (Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings), thespian beekcake (Idris Elba and Stuart Townsend), distinguished older men (Ray Stevenson, Samuel L. Jackson and Stellan Skarsgard), one much older man (Anthony Hopkins), and at least one uber-hot older woman (kudos to whomever convinced Rene Russo to come out of apparent retirement). Aside from obvious prurient appeal, there's not a bum actor in the bunch. Since I'm not up on my Thor continuity or my Norse mythology, I have no idea who most of these people are playing. I couldn't care less about Thor and the perils of Asgard, but Kenneth Branagh directing that astounding cast may just make it something special. But memo to Marvel - that is one stunningly sexy cast and I suggest they make use of that fact.

Scott Mendelson

Spider-Man 4 delay causes summer 2011 release-date shuffle.

While Spider-Man 4 would make around $700-800 million no matter when it opened, it's theoretical departure from the May 5th 2011 release date has already caused two major shifts. First of all, Marvel's Thor will now kick off summer 2011, opening May 6th (no Thursday openings for Thor). This is certainly a huge boon for the very risky Marvel adaptation. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring 20% of SAG, this one doesn't have nearly the easy sell that (comparatively) Iron Man did two years ago. It doesn't have a cult icon as its lead, it doesn't have the politically-relevant subject matter, and I can only presume that it doesn't play on the male escapist fantasy as well as the Tony Stark adventures. Marvel will be watching very closely at the performance of Warner Bros' Clash of the Titans remake. But now Thor is the official 'first film of summer'. So, judging by recent history, an opening of at least $60 million is guaranteed. With the exception of Kingdom of Heaven ($19 million), every summer-kick off film has opened to at least $48 million (2006's Mission Impossible 3) since 2001.

2009 in review - Favorite Movies of the Year

Pardon the obvious tardiness, but as often occurs, life got in the way. So, no more procrastination, here are my favorite films of the just finished year, in alphabetical order, with my very favorite pick singled out at the end. And away we go...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kathryn Bigelow directs Uma Thurman in 'Mission Zero'

In a discussion elsewhere concerning the fate of the James Bond series, Kathryn Bigelow was brought up as a more promising choice. It's not a terrible idea (I can think of a half-dozen franchises she deserves a crack at), but it would almost feel like a set-up. Bigelow might be walking into a gender-based trap. IE - every moment of the film would be scrutinized in relation to her gender. Plus, if the film's box office is a little soft (due to the audience response to Quantum of Solace), the film's relative financial disappointment may be used as 'proof that women can't do big-budget action'. Point being it's a risk that she may not feel like taking, especially if she makes history in February by winning the Best Director Oscar. Regardless, someone linked to this fantastic Italian sports-car commercial she directed in February 2007. I had never even heard of this thing, but it's kinda awesome. Enjoy.

Scott Mendelson

Sam Mendes to direct Bond 23?

This is not new news, but my work schedule has been murder the last few days. Anyway, the rumblings seem to dictate that MGM is in negotiations with Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Away We Go, Revolutionary Road) to direct the would-be sequel to Quantum of Solace. On the surface, this would seem to be a dumb idea, as he seems to be the same type as Marc Forster, a respected actor's director with zero action experience. Since Quantum of Solace was victimized by mixed word of mouth due to its hyper-stylized action-editing and its overly hand-wringing politics, it would seem odd to basically dip into the same well twice.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Best shoot outs of the decade...

I'm not a fan of John Singleton's Four Brothers. I think it's a mean and ugly movie that lionizes vigilante murder, with four foster brothers committing wholesale slaughter to avenge their pacifistic foster-mother without seeing the irony of their actions. But the film does contain a second-act climax that is easily one of the two most impressive gun battle of the 2000s. It's wonderfully staged, hair-trigger intense, and frighteningly real, both in the outcome and the acting of the participants. Unlike most action movie gun fights, the heroes of Four Brothers are absolutely terrified the entire time because, like most of us, they've never been in a shoot-out before. Their expressions of panic, confusion, and white-hot fear escalate a top-notch action scene into a thoroughly compelling dramatic moment. Along with the blistering second-act climax of Shaft, I'd argue that no American filmmaker crafts street-level gun battles as well as Mr. Singleton.

Yes, Kyle in the comments section below was right. I completely forgot about the 2003 climax of Open Range. Kevin Costner's Open Range is arguably the best western of the last ten years. It also contains a fifteen-minute action climax that is truly one of the best western gun battles in cinema history. Long, sprawling, and expertly staged, this action scene also generates plenty of suspense due to the sheer amount of 'good guys' and innocent bystanders in peril at all times. We don't know if the movie is going to have a happy ending or a downer climax, so every moment is tense as our heros and their friends are in constant jeopardy. I still love the gunfight in Four Brothers (itself a remake of John Wayne's The Sons of Katie Elder), but I must concede that Open Range has a superior shoot-out. As for my neglecting to mention it, I can only blame amnesia.

Two others that deserve mention, if only because the decade was so lacking in epic shoot-outs (blame Columbine I suppose):

The International - The movie is a confusing muddle and this scene lacks any real emotional impact, but it's an impressive display of action editing in an otherwise low-key political thriller.

Way of the Gun - The actual gunplay isn't all that impressive by itself, but there are pathos galore at the end of this underrated crime drama. But more interesting is the opening action scene, which subverts action cliche by A) having the entire shoot-out take place offscreen with only the noises and screams being heard and B) having our antiheroes murder several innocent bystanders and allowing the camera to linger on their corpses and their grieving relatives for dramatic effect.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mark Pellington helming The Orphanage remake.

I'm not entirely sure that The Orphanage needs an English-language remake. It's a moody tone poem, not terribly visceral and (with one early exception) relatively subtle in its scares. But no matter, hopefully the hub-bub over Mark Pellington's hiring will bring new viewers to his previous work. While his theatrical filmography as a director is relatively light, there are two under-seen gems that absolutely deserve to be rediscovered.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Avatar crashes, burns in third weekend, finishing 19th day with meager $352 million in US, $1 billion globally. Weekend box office review (01/03/10)

Avatar grossed $68.4 million in its third weekend, dropping a whopping 9% from its previous weekend. It's the biggest third-weekend of all time, clobbering Spider-Man's $45 million third-weekend gross. If this were Avatar's second weekend, it would be the fifth-biggest second weekend of all time. If this were Avatar's opening weekend, it would be the forty-third biggest opening weekend of all time (and it would likely remain 2010's top opening until May). On its own, it's the biggest weekend in January history, clobbering the $40 million Fri-Sun take of Cloverfield. In just 17 days, the James Cameron sci-fi epic has amassed $352 million in the US alone. Only The Dark Knight crossed that mark faster, in just fourteen days. Global numbers, well that's another story. There are now five movies that have amassed over $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. The previous speed record-holder, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, did it in about two months. The Dark Knight took several months and a re-release timed to coincide with Oscar nominations that never happened. Avatar just crossed that threshold in nineteen days. In just two-and-a-half weeks, Avatar is the fourth-highest grossing film of all time worldwide. Pathetic.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Best (and most fraudulent) trailer of the decade...

Rememeber our first glimpse of Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins? With little fanfare, Disney had dropped this fascinating trailer into our laps, promising a duel between two 19th century magicians. One, Hugh Jackman, was a virtuous illusionist. The other, Christian Bale, seemed to enjoy playing with darker magic. Was he an evil magician? What was his astounding lightning-filled trick that Jackman proclaimed was 'the greatest magic trick I've ever seen'? Was Bale a genuine dark wizard, fooling the audience into thinking that it was all an illusion while possessing real magic? The stage was set for a battle royale between good magic and evil magic. No so much...

Of course, if you've seen the film, you know that the trailer to The Prestige is in itself an illusion. It sells a pat good vs. evil story using editing that is so clever it may qualify as magic. Nearly every scene is in the film and every piece of onscreen text is accurate. But the narrative that the 155-second preview spins is a blatant falsehood . It is also the most exciting trailer I saw all decade, the rare preview that presented a movie that I knew nothing about and instantly made it tops on my must-see list. The film itself is a much murkier and far more complicated puzzle that is a wholly original kind of masterpiece. The Prestige is one of my favorite films of the last ten years, and the initial trailer, while itself a slight of hand, is my pick for the best trailer of the decade.

Scott Mendelson

If Crash really is the worst film you saw in the last 10 years, then I envy you.

I'm not the first person to notice this, but there seems to be a chorus brewing calling Paul Haggis's Crash the 'worst film of the decade'. Really? Worst film in all of the 2000s? Worse than Catwoman or One Missed Call? It seems like this is a case of several film bloggers saying 'look at me... I picked an Oscar-winning movie as the worst picture of the decade!' But let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's an honest choice on their part. Heck, my pick for the worst movie of the decade (Enchanted) is one that is generally popular but whose philosophies I find abhorrent. The articles linked to basically condemn the movie because it's not an accurate reflection of all race relations in all of Los Angeles. But that's not necessarily a fair comparison to make.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 in review - Best trailer of the year: the preview that ruined the movie (and not in the usual way).

I've seen Star Trek twice now. I will concede that the film was far more entertaining the second time around, and that I missed certain nuances of Kirk's arc (like the idea that Kirk acts with logic while Spock acts with emotion for much of the second half of the film). Frankly, I was so put off by the obnoxious kobayashi maru sequence that it colored my perception of him for the rest of the picture. I still find Eric Bana's Nero to be lacking in anything resembling gravitas. I still hate that the film basically ends with a shootout and a chase scene. I still contend that the third act is a mess, with future Spock basically dictating how the rest of the story should unfold and how to achieve it. And the idea that the crew of the Starship Enterprise should still take shape like we remember it, even in this alternate timeline, reeks of manifest destiny (why must James T. Kirk end up captain in this continuity?). Ironically, that last issue was actually dealt with in the best Star Trek movie of all, Galaxy Quest.

Still, I concede that part of my initial disappointment with Star Trek came from breaking my own cardinal rule - being displeased that the movie wasn't the film I wanted it to be, rather than critiquing the film that played out in front of me. I wanted THE Star Trek film, but I got merely a Star Trek film. I wanted something that was every bit as epic, mythic, Campellian, and breathtakingly powerful as the second trailer. What I got was merely an entertaining introductory space adventure, a B-movie with amusing characters, occasionally clever dialogue, and A-level production values. But if I admit that my expectations were colored by the film's marketing campaign, I must also admit that the second trailer (released in early March of 2009) was a wonderful piece of filmmaking, a soaring, emotionally-charged epic in 135 seconds. Star Trek may not have been the best film of the year, but its trailer easily stands as 2009's best coming attraction. As for the producers of the film itself, they've reignited a 45-year old franchise, reaped record grosses, and won over new fans in the geek and non-geek community alike. For the sequel, I still dare them to do better.

Scott Mendelson


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