Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday box office (04/29/11): $33.2 million for Fast Five, $79-83 million weekend debut likely. Prom and Hoodwinked Too under-perform.

With an opening day that is bigger than all-but two live-action opening weekends this year (Battle: Los Angeles's $36 million opening and The Green Hornet's $33.5 million debut weekend), Fast Five kicked off the summer movie season in high style. The film pulled in just 11% of its opening day tally in midnight screenings. If the picture performs with the same 2.4x weekend multiplier as Fast and Furious ($30m/$72m), it's got an $80 million opening weekend on tap, bigger than the two largest opening weekends of 2011 (Rio and Rango) combined, nearly $10 million higher than the last picture, the record for an April debut, and the biggest three-day opening in Universal's history (the prior record holder is The Lost World: Jurassic Park with $72.3 million). Obviously we'll know how it plays tomorrow, but I'm personally expecting a less frontloaded picture than the previous entry, if only because it's a much better film (although that may not be a factor until next weekend). There's nothing breathtaking about a well-marketed sequel in a popular franchise performing in line with expectations, but it's still nice when a good genre film opens well. Prom made just $1.8 million while Hoodwinked Too grossed just $1.1 million. I don't know how much Dylan Dog: Dead of Night made on just $270,000 on 875 screens.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011)

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
107 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Unlike some critics, I take no joy on trashing the work of other people. A bad film is not an invitation to try to come up with the cleverest or snarkiest way to verbally condemn it. As my readers hopefully notice, I do try to find something nice to say even about the worst films, and I usually can succeed. And it is one thing to openly tear apart the failures of a $150 million Hollywood product and/or the belabored attempts of a once-fine filmmaker gone to pot. But it is another to openly tear into a small picture that may or may not be a labor of love. So with sincere apologies to all involved, it should be noted that Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is one of the worst films I have ever seen in a theater.

Friday, April 29, 2011

See it first or don't see it at all part II: Robert Redford's The Conspirator gone from 16-screen theater in just 14 days.

I made a comment in the box office review two weekends ago regarding the decent per-screen average for Robert Redford's The Conspirator. Basically, my wife wants to see the picture, but we had decided to wait until our preschool's monthly 'babysitting night'. Babysitting night is indeed this evening, just two weekends since The Conspirator opened on about 700 screens to moderate success. Not good enough it seems, as the picture is already gone from the AMC Promenade 16. Now we're not quite out of luck. We are lucky enough to live within driving distance of a Laemmle theater (an arthouse theater), which is still playing the picture this evening. Still, this moderately successful character-driven historical drama, with a relatively high-toned cast and a major director at the helm, is gone from art least a healthy chunk of its theaters in just two weekends. This is the price for the infusion of 3D and IMAX product on a regular basis. With every major tentpole this summer taking advantage of either IMAX and/or 3D ticket prices, many megaplexes will have no choice but to offer such films on that many more screens to offer the various options. When Thor, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens over the next month, they will be on at least three screens in the biggest theaters: 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D. It will be the smaller 2D films that lose their precious screens that much faster as the summer progresses.

Scott Mendelson

Fast Five scores $3.7 million in midnight screenings, could open between $19 million and $82 million for the weekend.

Fast Five (review), unofficial summer 2011 kick-off film, has grossed $3.7 million in midnight screenings. It's the biggest midnight debut in Universal history, so they have that going for them. What that means for the opening weekend is somewhat up to debate, but this is the kind of franchise that plays more to the general 'wait until the weekend' moviegoer than the hardcore 'must see it NOW' genre fans, so this number is pretty promising. With the exception of uber-frontloaded genre films, midnight screenings generally account for 5-6% of opening weekend business. Under that best-case scenario model, Fast Five is on track for a $74 million opening weekend. If it plays like Avatar (4.5%), then it gets an opening weekend of $82 million. However, for insanely anticipated films and/or heavily geek-centric franchises (think Twilight or Tron), the midnight numbers can account for 11-19% of the weekend box office. Under that worst-case scenario, Fast Five would only gross $19-34 million. In this case, I think we're clearly looking at a popular franchise that fans didn't quite feel the need to rush out and see right at midnight, meaning that the former scenario should apply. Of course, the last picture, Fast and Furious pulled a 2.5% midnight screening haul, turning a $1.8 million midnight showing into a $72 million opening weekend. That COULD happen here ($148 million opening weekend if it does), but I think we can presume that this fifth film is a bit more anticipated and front-loaded. We'll know soon enough once the Friday numbers start trickling in, but it appears that, pardon the obvious conclusion, Fast Five is off to a fast and/or furious start. For those who want a detailed look at the math regarding midnight screenings, go here.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: 13 Assassins (2011)

13 Assassins
125 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Tashaki Miike's 13 Assassins is an oddly old fashioned and traditional bit of action storytelling. While Miike is best known (in the states at least) for his often outlandishly gruesome horror pictures, this newest epic instead aims for Akira Kurosawa. 13 Assassins does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to character or even plotting, but it tells its story with polish and style to spare. Oh, and it also climaxes with an astonishingly lengthy all-out action sequence that would make John Woo, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron stand up and applaud. One can argue that the last third of the film may not be worth sitting through the first eighty minutes or so of somewhat generic, but character-driven, set-up. But the film absolutely rewards viewer patience and takes its place as a terrific action picture that does its genre proud.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon gets a dynamite second trailer, full of long, fluid takes. Although it will make you miss Megan Fox.

Although it's not surprising, it's still impressive just how massive the third (and final?) Transformers picture seems to be. Granted, I'm betting most of the action footage in this trailer is from the last act of the film, but it still is a truly eye-popping piece of marketing. Bay swears up and down that this latest installment is (pick one or all) better, darker, less campy, better written, etc than Revenge of the Fallen, and at this point we have no reason to doubt him. This does appear to be the full-on alien invasion/monster movie epic that many of us thought we were getting with the first sequel, and there is nary a hint of camp or even much humor of any kind in this 150 second clip. One promising thing, which Bay has hinted at, is that shooting in 3D has forced Michael Bay to use longer and more fluid takes, and the results are readily apparent. The best part of the trailer is how long Bay seems to be holding his takes, so we really get a sense of geography and can actually appreciate his full-scale destruction.

Another business SHOCKER! IMAX makes less with Green Hornet and Sucker Punch than with Avatar and Alice in Wonderland!!!

Yet another 'no shit, Sherlock!' business story this morning, as IMAX has announced a $1 million quarterly loss for the first chunk of 2011. Yes indeed, The Green Hornet, Mars Needs Moms, and Sucker Punch were just not enough to equal the money-making muscle of Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, and How to Train Your Dragon. And once again, I'm sure this particular company will be just fine as the summer season starts. They have a deluge of major new product over the next three months debuting in IMAX on an almost weekly basis starting tomorrow. They've got Fast Five (April 29th), Thor (May 6th), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20th), Kung Fu Panda 2 (May 26th), Super 8 (June 10th), Cars 2 (June 24th), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (July 1st), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II (July 15th). Green Lantern (June 17th) and Captain America (July 22nd) are forgoing IMAX at the moment, but that could change as the summer goes on. Point being, I'm pretty sure IMAX is going to be just fine.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II gets a terrific, but spoilery, trailer.

If you've read the book you know what to expect and will get that much more of a chill out of certain moments. If you haven't, you might want to think twice about watching this surprisingly spoiler-filled trailer. You might especially want to avert your eyes at the 1:02 mark (and 1:28 hints at a major crowdpleasing moment to boot). Either way, it's another knockout piece of marketing selling the grim finality that is most certainly in store. The sheer scale on display is impressive, especially for the series that generally didn't thrive on larger-than-life action scenes. As I've said a zillion times, this franchise was about character and relationships, something not forgotten in the grim voice over that plays in this 110-second piece. If part II matches the heartbreaking bleakness of part I with the big-scale action that the book demands, then we may be looking at a serious Oscar contender as this one-of-a-kind franchise wraps up its decade-long run. It truly is the end of an era in more ways than one, and the Harry Potter series is truly one of the ages. This one finishes up on July 15th.

Scott Mendelson

Thor, a comic book adventure, is kid-friendly? You speak madness! Just how 'dark and gritty' do we want our fantasy pictures, anyway?

There was talk last week of Paramount moving its all-media press screenings for Thor in several cities to a this Saturday at 10am. The reason was pretty simple: in research and arguably in practice (the film has been open in Australia for nearly two weeks), the big-budget comic book adventure film was playing pretty well to surprisingly young audiences. I don't know if this came to pass anywhere (I'm seeing the film on Tuesday the 3rd), but it brings to mind an interesting observation. There was a certain amount of surprise when it was revealed in one review or another just how kid-friendly the larger-than-life action picture turned out to be. I confess that I've been hard on the film based on the footage we had thus far seen, and it frankly never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, this 31-year old father of one (with another on the way) might not be the intended audience for Kenneth Branagh's Thor.

X-Men: First Class gets another solid trailer.

With Fast Five unofficially starting the summer in just under 48 hours, we should expect to see a deluge of major trailers over the next couple days. First out of the gate is a longer, more plot-centric trailer for 20th Century Fox's X-Men: First Class. And once again, Fox is shrewdly selling this as a low-key, character and story-driven alternative to the more razzle-dazzle entries this summer. This will still be a pretty tough sell. Much of the appeal of the original X-Men movies rested on selling the most popular characters, the ones that casual moviegoers may have remembered from the 90s Fox cartoon and/or the Konami arcade game. They also depended on the audience-pleasing super-heroics from Wolverine and the comparative all-star cast (Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, etc). Without those core elements and stuck with a cast of less visually-dynamic superheros, Fox is selling story-story-story. I don't know what this picture cost, but if it was significantly cheaper than at least the last couple X-Men pictures then Fox should be fine. There is little chance that X-Men: First Class will win the comic book-movie box office war of summer 2011. But with its sharp cast, intriguing real-world narrative and an emphasis on tone over spectacle, it is clearly the front runner to win the critical battle.

Scott Mendelson

Updated: Green Lantern gets extended TV spots, sells cosmic scale to general audiences.

This TV spot ran over the weekend in various high-profile locales. It's 120 seconds long and, unless you're a nerd who looks up Wondercon footage, this is the first you've seen of the film since the disastrous trailer back in November 2010. As such, this extended spot is all about selling the scale of the picture and the intergalactic stakes. And on that note, it is a success. Reynolds is featured prominently, but mainly as an observer. In fact, the main problem with the spot is when the narrative returns to Earth for the last action montage, it feels less impressive than what came before. The only shots of Hal Jordan in action both come from the same scene of him beating up Peter Sarsgaard in a lab. Obviously this is marketing and Warner may be hiding at least some of the third act stuff (we already see what appears to be the death of a major villain) so we can hope that Jordan does more than stop a crashing helicopter and beat up a deranged scientist. I'm still impressed and cautiously optimistic thus far. As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

STUNNER! Animated film studio makes LESS money when it doesn't have new animated film in marketplace!!!

In a 'no shit, Sherlock' development, Dreamworks Animation is reporting a 60% drop in profits for the first quarter of 2011, when compared to the first quarter of 2010. What could have caused this astonishing statistic? Dreamworks Animation was most burdened this quarter by the lackluster box office performance of... oh wait. That's right... Dreamworks Animation had a surprisingly strong first quarter of 2010 when they were feasting on the unexpectedly strong box office performance of How to Train Your Dragon, which grossed $494 million worldwide. And in the same quarter of 2009, Monsters vs. Aliens had a robust worldwide take of $381 million. But for the same quarter of this current year, Dreamworks saw softer-than-expected grosses from the theatrical release of... NOTHING!!! They didn't have an animated film out this quarter!! They haven't had a theatrical release since Megamind back in November of 2010. Los Angeles Times calls that one a 'misfire', which I suppose is what you call a $130 million picture than grosses $321 million worldwide (it was much cheaper than the other recent Dreamworks animated films, which all cost about $170 million). Point being, let's not sell off your Dreamworks stock and/or demand that the company be sold yet again. I'm sure once the theatrical animation film studio will be just fine once they actually have a theatrical animated film (such as Kung Fu Panda 2 opening in exactly one month) to offer.

Scott Mendelson

Review: African Cats

African Cats
85 minutes
rated G

by Scott Mendelson

There's not really much to say about the newest in the Disneynature series of documentary pictures. It looks absolutely gorgeous, with a nice mix of the intimate and the epic. Like March of the Penguins and the other nature documentaries that have followed in its wake, African Cats is basically non-fiction footage with a narrative attached via narration and judicious editing. Samuel L. Jackson narrates the proceedings, and its a suitably hammy and exciting delivery. The issue of course is that, like many nature documentaries aimed at mainstream audiences, there is an all-too obvious attempt at anthropomorphizing the pride of lions and the single-mother cheetah and her cubs at the center of the story. Behavior that may be cold animal instinct is constantly attributed to maternal affection and recognizable human emotional motivations. The story itself, a turf battle between two male lions and the cheetah family caught in the middle, may in fact be what happened as the cameras rolled over a two-year period. But, when even the makers of the seemingly silently-observant Winged Migration admits to staging, I cannot help wondering how much of the 'story' was wholeheartedly manufactured for the sake of heart-tugging.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend Box Office (04/24/11): Rio holds strong, Madea and Water for Elephants open well on Easter weekend.

It was another 'everybody wins' at the box office this Easter weekend, as every major new release opened at or above expectations, while most of the older movies had strong holds. 20th Century Fox's animated adventure Rio was number once again, as it fell just 32% for a $26.3 million weekend. The $90 million Blue Sky production has so far amassed $80 million domestically, while already grossing $286 million mark worldwide. It has already surpassed the $234 million worldwide haul of Rango to become 2011's top international grosser, if only for a week or two. The success of Rio exemplified the hidden good news in this first 1/3 of 2011. While others complained about the lack of massive opening weekends and the smaller cumulative weekend box office compared to last year, there was a flood of comparatively cheaper films that had slightly smaller opening weekends but displayed solid legs all season long. Money is money, and studios will take it over the first weekend or over the first ten days or so either way. Besides, considering that the theaters themselves get a larger cut (50/50 vs. around 30/70) after the first few weekends, you can bet that they'd greatly prefer smaller opening weekends but leggier exhibitions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scott Mendelson on SlashFilm's /FilmCast, discussing Scream 4.

As usual, it's harder to import audio files than video files, so you'll just have to click on the photo to go straight to the /Film site. But I did about an hour worth of chit-chat with the fine folks at Slashfilm, where we discussed Scream 4 both as a stand-alone film and as part of the series. My part comes in right at the 44-minute mark and continues right till the end. The first half of the discussion is spoiler free, while the second half dives into pure spoiler territory. As usual, I sound a bit nasaly and you can tell that I recorded this in my office. This will likely take the place of a spoiler-filled essay on Scream 4, since most of the points I wanted to cover are discussed in this hour of discussion. Enjoy...

Scott Mendelson

See the best scene in Donnie Yen's Legend of the Fist: the Return of Chen Zhen

This doozie of an opening occurs about five minutes or so into the prologue of this Friday's limited release, Legend of the Fist. It's a Donnie Yen action vehicle, arguably operating as a sequel to Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury. When Yen isn't fighting people, the picture is pretty dull, although Andrew Lau deserves credit for going full-on nationalistic in this tale of 1920s-China being subjugated by the Japanese between the two World Wars. The story is pretty basic (Donnie Yen returns from war and dons the alias of a wealthy playboy and becomes a vigilante by night), but the telling isn't particularly inspiring. When Yen isn't kicking righteous ass (which isn't as often as you'd think) or we aren't being treated to hilariously violent montages of public officials being murdered, the film slows to a crawl. To be fair, the closing fight scene (where Yen takes on an entire dojo of baddies by himself) is pretty spectacular, but this opening bit is the best reason to see the picture. And since Well Go USA and/or Variance Films saw fit to put this sequence up online just days before the limited theatrical release, and Film School Rejects was nice enough to embed it. So they have saved you the trip to the theater. Legend of the Fist is not a terrible film. Yen is potent in a way that the less physically imposing Jet Li or the more comedic Jackie Chan never was (even Chan knew his better, as he let Yen kick his ass in the terrific Shanghai Knights back in 2003) and the production values are stylish. But it fails the primary test of a solid martial arts film: am I entertained when the fists and feet are not flying? Alas, the answer in this case is no.

Grade: C+

Scott Mendelson: Quote Whore!

You say SLUMP, I say 'smaller movies with legs'. Why the first months of 2011 were good for box office, good for studios, and good for moviegoers.

If Fast Five and/or Thor fail to open to $50 million or more, then I'll start to worry. If Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides doesn't open anywhere near $100 million and doesn't clear $250 million, I'll start to be concerned. If Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part II grosses under $260 million, I'll maybe start panicking. But until any of those things occur, let's stop whining about the week-to-week comparisons at the box office. We're not in a 'slump'. Yes, weekend-to-weekend figures have been consistently down behind last year's respective weekends for much of 2011. But when you look at the numbers on a movie-by-movie basis, you actually notice something wonderful. A flood of mid-budget, adult-skewed movies have opened at or above expectations, and many of them have had the kind of legs you just don't see anymore. That's the Hollywood we claim we want, so why are we complaining?

Review: Fast Five (2011)

Fast Five
130 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Fast Five is frankly something of a miracle. Here is the fifth entry of a ten-year old franchise that has rarely surpassed mediocrity, but which now offers up a chapter that borders on genuine greatness. Here is a sequel that pays explicit attention to what came before and rewards viewers who actually watched and enjoyed the previous films. Unlike so many later sequels that basically just disregard the prior sequels and try to be a sequel to the original or a stand-alone reboot, Fast Five embraces its character relationships and continuity. I had not seen any of the Fast and the Furious films until the week prior to seeing Fast Five. Having watched the prior entries over a period of a few days, I really didn't care for any of them. As much as I enjoyed Fast Five, I cannot even imagine how rewarding this movie will be for those who have loved this series since the beginning.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blu Ray Review: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Mortal Kombat
101 minutes
rated PG-13
Available from Warner Home Video on April 19th.

by Scott Mendelson

Mortal Kombat is very much a product of its time and place. It remains a time capsule of the mid-90s era when pre-established properties were slowly becoming the big thing in the wake of the Batman series, but hadn't yet fully taken over as they would after 2001 (there's a LONG essay about that coming soon-ish). It is odd to refer to a violent kung-fu fantasy based on an ultraviolent video game as 'charming', but Mortal Kombat remains, nearly sixteen years later, an amusing and nostalgia-filled trip to our youth. It remains one of the more successful films ever based on a video game, both artistically (for whatever that's worth) and commercially (at $70 million in domestic grosses, it trails only the first animated Pokemon movie, Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time and Tomb Raider in the video game genre). It is not 'good' by most definitions, but by god it felt good to kick back and remember a time when a movie like this was just a B-movie genre entry in late summer, rather than a $200 million tentpole with an entire studio at peril. Like Street Fighter: the Movie, Mortal Kombat is a dumb, fun B-movie back when B-movies weren't being given A+ budgets and expectations.

Actual Batman 3 news! Marion Cotillard isn't Talia Al Ghul, Joseph Gordon-Levitt isn't Black Mask, Dr. Strange, or Alberto Falcone.

As usual, everything you think you know about The Dark Knight Rises is wrong. After months of 'rumors', Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard have been officially signed for the third Chris Nolan Batman picture. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cotillard is not be playing Talia Al Ghul, but rather 'Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member eager to help a still-grieving Bruce Wayne resume his father’s philanthropic endeavors for Gotham.' This is certainly a notable development on two fronts: A) It implies that Wayne's relationship with Rachel Dawes will not be tossed under the rug and forgotten in the wake of her murder in The Dark Knight. B) It also implies that Nolan may be getting away from the whole 'Bruce Wayne pretends to be an asshole so no one suspects he's Batman' shtick that I do so loathe. It's a classic trope of the comics over the last twenty-five years or so, but it remains a silly and self-defeating concept, as it neuters the theoretically much-greater potential for social good that Bruce Wayne can provide so Batman can run around at night and beat up muggers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Box Office (04/17/11): Rio opens big, Scream 4 underwhelms.

As expected, 20th Century Fox's Rio followed its stunning $55 million overseas debut last weekend with a $39.2 million domestic opening weekend here. Rio is officially the biggest opening weekend thus far in 2011. The film comes from Blue Sky Animation, the Fox-owned animation house that has consistently delivered since the original Ice Age back in March of 2002. This is the second-weakest debut for the studio, after the $36 million debut of Robots in March of 2005, but Robots, Horton Hears a Who ($45 million opening weekend), and the Ice Age pictures weren't dealing with being the fifth computer-animated film to open in just over two months.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Scream 4 (2011) exists purely to acknowledge its own pointlessness.

Scream 4
110 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

It is rare that a film spends such a large chunk of its running time basically admonishing its own existence. Yet Wes Craven's return to the world of Scream is not only a relatively unnecessary franchise revival, it wears its uselessness on its sleeve. Call it 'meta' or call it a genuine distaste for those who would demand a fourth installment of this particular series, but Scream 4 shouts early and often about the myriad of ways in which it rips itself off. While it delivers the bare essentials (violent murders, copious blood, pretty people being stalked), it becomes, due to a lack of emotional potency and an unwillingness to take itself particularly seriously, a pale imitation of not only itself, but of those that ripped it off over the last fifteen years. Scream 4 is like a the last couple Michael Jackson albums: it's disheartening seeing the franchise that reinvented the wheel merely doing what its successors did, but at an inferior level.

Real life got in the way. Scream 4 review coming whenever I see the d^^$ thing.

Was supposed to see it on Tuesday night, but wanted to wait until my wife could go with me. Was supposed to go last night, but life got in the way. Hopefully will see it tonight, since I'm allegedly going to be on Slashfilm's /Filmcast tomorrow evening to discuss the film. Oh well. By Monday, no one will care when I saw it, especially as it's not exactly burning up the box office (it's on course to open at high-level Screen Gems numbers, with about $22 million). The plan is still to write a spoiler-free review hopefully late this evening, and then to do a final 'Scream Retrospective' entry, which would be a spoiler-ish discussion that discussed part 4 in relation to parts 1, 2, and 3. So be patient merry readers, I shall make it up to you with an early review of a major release as soon as the embargo breaks (let's just say 'the fifth time is the charm'). If apologies are needed, then apologies.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens gets a more plot-heavy second trailer.

Truth be told, I kinda like the moodier, scarier first teaser better. Favreau gets points for giving little away even in this longer trailer, especially when it comes to the visuals. I really don't care for the punk-rock western music that kicks in during the second half, as it really takes me out of the material. Everyone looks solid, although it's apparently obvious that Olivia Wilde has nothing to do other than look hot, get naked, and eventually get kidnapped. It's a shame about Clancy Brown, but it appears that he will not be in the sequel. In a summer filled with reboots, remakes, and sequels, Cowboys and Aliens still stands out as a genuinely original project, which this summer means that it's based on a comic book that no one has heard of. Nonetheless, this still looks like solid entertainment, and I'm always thrilled to see Harrison Ford in something that feels like a different kind of role (Morning Glory was a mediocre picture, but its just the kind of character role that Ford should be doing). This one comes out July 29th, so we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

A look back at the Scream franchise part III. Scream 3: Scared of Columbine's shadow, a horror film series cuts its own throat.

It remains to be seen whether or Scream 4 can become the first breakout mega-smash of 2011, drawing in nostalgic 20-somethings and 30-somethings while bringing along the next generation who grew up watching the first three films on DVD over the last decade. I was invited to Tuesday night's press screening but had to decline due to not being allowed to bring guests (IE - my wife). But in the meantime, let us take a moment to both reflect on the original trilogy as well as discuss how well these films have held up over the years. Needless to say, if you have not seen the first three Scream films, there will be complete and total spoilage. Consider yourself warned...

Rise of the Conquest of the Battle of the Planet of the Apes part 6 gets a trailer.

I'm not sure whether the world needs another Planet of the Apes film. Although I was sure that the Tim Burton 'reimaging' ten years ago was going to bomb for just that reason (had I not been a Tim Burton fan, I would have had NO interest). Instead, it opened with $69.5 million, the second biggest opening weekend of ever at that time, so there obviously is a mainstream interest in this universe. As for this new film, slotted to open at close to July 27th as Fox could muster (Cowboys and Aliens and The Smurfs open on July 29th), it looks like an artier variation on (I think?) Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, before it descends into I, Robot. James Franco is actually kind of terrible in this trailer, with overly arch delivery (Franco isn't usually someone accused of overacting), but this remains an interesting and surprisingly arty piece of marketing. It's good that Fox is, at the moment, selling atmosphere and set-up over nonstop action. Whether or not there remains a mainstream audience for yet another chance to monkey around will be determined on August 5th. Until then, as always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A look back at the Scream franchise part II. Scream 2: the second time's the charm.

It remains to be seen whether or Scream 4 can become the first breakout mega-smash of 2011, drawing in nostalgic 20-somethings and 30-somethings while bringing along the next generation who grew up watching the first three films on DVD over the last decade. I was invited to Tuesday night's press screening but had to decline due to not being allowed to bring guests (IE - my wife). But in the meantime, let us take a moment to both reflect on the original trilogy as well as discuss how well these films have held up over the years. Needless to say, if you have not seen the first three Scream films, there will be complete and total spoilage. Consider yourself warned...

Joining the Dark Side of the Force at Disneyland.

I was kind of hoping Allison would pull this kind of stunt when she was old enough to partake in Disney's Jedi Academy Training show. But knowing Allison, she'd probably try to kill Darth Vader and become the newest Sith Lord. None-the-less, this is pretty amusing. Of course, if you buy the whole 'there can only be two' shtick involving Sith warriors, then Darth Maul is about to get whacked.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A look back at the Scream franchise part I. Scream: still entertaining, but with a genuine learning curve.

It remains to be seen whether or Scream 4 can become the first breakout mega-smash of 2011, drawing in nostalgic 20-somethings and 30-somethings while bringing along the next generation who grew up watching the first three films on DVD over the last decade. I was invited to Tuesday night's press screening but had to decline due to not being allowed to bring guests (IE - my wife). But in the meantime, let us take a moment to both reflect on the original trilogy as well as discuss how well these films have held up over the years. These will hopefully run on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, leading up to a review of Scream 4 either Friday or Saturday night, depending on when we can get a sitter (we offered to drop Allison off at Rio while mom and dad were across the hall, but she demanded that we come with her... so clingy!). Needless to say, if you have not seen the first three Scream films, there will be complete and total spoilage in. Consider yourself warned... First up, obviously, is the original Scream.

Weekend Box Office (04/10/11): Hop stays on top, four new releases cannibalize each other, Insidious pulls stunning hold.

For the second weekend in a row, Universal's Hop was the number one film of the weekend. The Easter Bunny animated epic dropped 42% in its second weekend, grossing $21.6 million. That's a bit heavy for an animated film, but the lack of school for many kids has meant decent midweek showings, draining the 'must see on the weekend' factor. Regardless, the $63 million-budgeted film has already grossed $68 million in the first ten days. If it can fend off Rio next weekend (which is basically being sold by Fox as 'Angry Birds: the Movie'), it positions itself for a strong fourth weekend, which is of course Easter itself. Frankly, it will be fun to watch, as agnostic, atheist, and/or not-Christian families will likely check out Hop over that holiday weekend, while the more overtly Christian families will theoretically opt for Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family. This is another big win for Illumination and a solid hit for Universal. $100 million seems guaranteed and beyond that is mainly a matter of demo competition (a bunch of kid-friendly films over the next month) and whether it can keep screens as summer starts. As for those who read last week's roundup, I did see the film that Sunday, and it's relatively mediocre but utterly harmless. My three-year old enjoyed it, which counts for something, and it does make an effort to go in a different direction than many other talking-animal films (too bad it literally gives away the ending in the first scene of the film... WHY???).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Review: Hanna

110 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Joe Wright's Hanna is so detached and so mechanically cold, that the viewer has no real stake in the narrative. It features, at its core, two opposing forces, both of questionable morality, who pursue each other all over Europe with a reckless and relentless abandon. If you have any sympathy at all, it won't be for the young assassin or her ice-cold nemesis, but rather for all the innocent saps who get killed along the way. The picture may be a stylish reworking of "Little Red Riding Hood", but at its core it is detached, resulting in a lack of investment. Despite the arty pretense and polished cast, Joe Wright's action debut is almost as hollow and junky as the kind of low-IQ mainstream thriller that it attempts to surpass.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Actual Batman 3 news! James Pence cast as... (spoilers). Will The Dark Knight Rises even acknowledge The Dark Knight?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, James Pence has been apparently been cast as a young Ra's Al Ghul in Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Spence, currently best known as the unlucky soul who had his face digitally replaced by Arnie Hammer in The Social Network, will apparently play a young Liam Neeson in a flashback sequence taking place thirty years before the events of Batman Begins. The only thing I have to offer about this is the following: Marion Cotillard is allegedly playing Talia Al Ghul (Ra's Al Ghul's daughter in the comics). Gary Oldman and others have claimed that it ties-in pretty directly to Batman Begins, with the League of Shadows returning and the trilogy wrapping up in a 'full circle' kind of way. So, the question is, will this be yet another part 3 that more-or-less ignores the events of the second film? Will The Dark Knight Rises be another second sequel that operates purely as a sequel to the first film rather than a third part in a continuing story?

Yay! Relativity plans needless reboot of The Crow, just in time to exploit the 20th anniversary of Brandon Lee's death!

There have been rumblings for years, but rumor became official news yesterday, as Relativity announced they were indeed planning a reboot of The Crow and that 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo was on board to direct. Um, yay? We have a bleak and relentlessly violent comic book that was already adapted into a bleak and relentlessly violent film. So unless they are going to redo The Crow with a tone similar to The Phantom (slam evil!), I really don't see the point in rehashing the same story yet again. Yes, this is a perfect example of the 'must reboot everything that someone liked from the last 30 years' meme that has gripped the industry over the last couple years, but there is another uglier undertone to this particular reboot. Guess what famous Hollywood death is approaching its 20th anniversary?

Waited for DVD: The Tourist (2010)

This is the first of a periodic feature of sorts, wherein I basically comment on a film that I didn't get around to seeing in theaters for one reason or another (the biggest reason is usually that my wife wants to see it, but it's not worth the hassle of arranging a sitter). Unlike my theatrical reviews, these will be a bit less formal and may or may not discuss the critical and commercial reaction to a given film. Yes, this section will arguably grow a bit come June when my second child is born, so I'm testing the waters right now. The first installment is a mini-review of The Tourist.

While the film was tagged as a box office flop, The Tourist actually grossed $274 million worldwide. That's Johnny Depp's sixth-biggest grosser, and his top grosser for a film that wasn't a Pirates of the Caribbean film or a Tim Burton fantasy. It's Angelina Jolie's seventh-biggest film yet, and fifth if you discount her animated cameos in A Shark Tale ($367 million) and Kung Fu Panda ($631 million). It's actually $19 million behind the $293 million worldwide take for Salt, which is likely getting a sequel on a generally similar budget ($100 million for The Tourist vs. $110 million for Salt). Sure the film made over $200 million of its grosses overseas, but money is money is money. So The Tourist was not a flop in any traditional sense, but is it any good? Uh... no.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yesterday's News Today: Will Smith teams with M. Night Shyamalan. How they can help each other...

The news is brief and relatively vague. But Will Smith and Jaden Smith are apparently headlining an original science-fiction adventure film for none-other than M. Night Shyamalan. The Sony picture is untitled and the plot details are sparse ("Set 1,000 years into the future, a young boy navigates an abandoned and sometimes scary Earth to save himself and his estranged father after their ship crashes."), but the idea of the biggest star on Earth teaming with one of the more iconic filmmakers in the modern age remains an interesting one. Point being, it may well be a mutually-beneficial relationship for both of them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Your Highness (2011)

Your Highness
102 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

David Gordon Green was once set to become the next Terrence Malick. His sober dramas of lower or middle class Americana (George Washington, Snow Angels, etc) were some of the finest examples of character-driven drama to come out of the last several years of independent cinema. Now the man seems stuck in a world where pointless brainless marijuana jokes and gay panic humor rules the day. Your Highness is fatally-stymied by a script by Ben Best and star Dannie McBride that still thinks that smoking weed is inherently funny, the 'f-word' is by-itself comic gold, and homosexuality is automatically repulsive. There are moments of successfully-ripping satire of 80s medieval action pictures, but (pardon the pun) higher aspirations go up in smoke.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weekend Box Office (04/03/11): Hop on top with $37m, Source Code opens to $14m, Insidious open to $13m, Sucker Punch crashes (-68%) in weekend two.

As expected, Universal scored another solid animated win for the weekend, as Hop opened with $37.5 million. This is a solid win for the occasionally beleaguered Universal, as the live-action/animation Easter comedy cost just $63 million. The film came from Illumination, the same company that gave Universal Despicable Me last summer, and the marketing department made sure everybody knew it. The sell was all about the concept, as Universal didn't even bother hyping the celebrity voices (Russell Brand, Hugh Laurie, etc), instead selling the various cuddly characters (the Easter bunny himself, the Pink Berets, evil chickens, etc). No one in their right mind was expecting an Ice Age 2 ($67 million) or Despicable Me ($56 million) level opening, but the moderately-low budget animated film delivered right in its comfort zone.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Now THAT's a trailer. Green Lantern Wonder Con footage.

Lesson to be learned: if you don't have the material for a decent trailer, wait until you do. Warner Bros. shot itself in the foot late last year with a rushed and cheap-looking Green Lantern trailer in order to debut it with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I. The word of mouth was poisonous and the marketing campaign pretty much entombed itself until this weekend. The guests at Wonder Con saw about ten minutes of new footage, and Warner decided to release four minutes worth. And it's pretty fantastic stuff. Sure, the effects are still work-in-progress and much of the film will likely resemble an animated picture, but... wow. The scope and scale is apparently everything you might want from a Green Lantern space adventure. The vastness of outer-space, the scope of the various alien worlds, the sheer intensity of the opening moments, and the fact that the outer-space menace (Parallax, I presume) actually looks pretty terrifying... I'm officially back on board for this one. It's no secret that I'm a big Martin Campbell fan, and it seems (for the moment) that my faith has been restored. The bad news is that while Allison liked seeing Green Lantern, she was a little freaked out by the last thirty-seconds, so she'll have to stay home on this one. Quite simply, I'm quite impressed and a little relieved.

Scott Mendelson

Green Lantern gets a promising new poster. I believe in Martin Campbell... I believe in Martin Campbell!

Review: Source Code (2011)

Source Code
96 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

This won't be a terribly long review. I went into writer Ben Ripley and director Duncan Jones's Source Code relatively blind, and whenever I'm lucky enough to do that I try to give the readers the same courtesy. And since most of my issues with the film involve specific plot elements, there's only so much dancing around the edges I can do. The film wins points for constructing some original ideas and creating a thoughtful and compelling thriller. But it loses points by creating a narrative where much of the middle hour is a waiting game. And it loses even more points by arbitrarily changing the rules and wrecking its own logic in order to end the film on a happier note than it otherwise would.

The Hangover II gets a shockingly unfunny trailer, just replays the first film ala Home Alone 2: Lost in New York..

I make no bones about my admiration for the first Hangover. It had a tight mystery screenplay that worked as a light thriller first and a comedy second. And even back in June 2009, I said that I had no interest in a sequel, especially one that just repeated the story of the first one. And that's basically what Todd Phillips and his friends have done this time. Same three guys, same basic set-up, same core problem. Last time, it was a missing groom, this time it's a missing brother-of-the-bride. Oh, and it's in a totally different country this time. Oh, and the trailer fails to score a single laugh. It's been awhile since we've seen a sequel that so obviously seems to be just replaying the first film. The obvious precedent is Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. That's not good. Anyway, this one comes out May 27th.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, April 1, 2011

Review: Trust (2011)

100 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

The most pleasantly surprising thing about David Schwimmer's Trust is just how much it, yes, trusts the audience. There is a refreshing lack of melodrama and a lack of explicit moral exposition that truly makes it an adult picture in the best sense of the word. Its subject matter (a young girl who has unwilling sex with a much older man she met online) could easily be the stuff of either tawdry sensationalism or finger-wagging pontification. But Schwimmer is not making a John Walsh-ish epic about the sexual predators who are around every corner just waiting to violate our daughters. He instead sets out to tell a very specific story about a specific family that happens to undergo a traumatic ordeal, and he refuses to lecture. While it is a flawed and occasionally frustrating picture, Trust has the decency to respect our intelligence.


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