Monday, October 31, 2011

Just in time for Halloween: 11 of the better (best?) horror sequels in recent history.

I've tried to do some kind of list every Halloween but stumbled into a bit of writer's block this year.  When you've already written about the worst horror films your wife has made you watch, the best direct-to-DVD horror films and the plain-scariest theatrical horror films in the last twenty years, there's not as much room to play as you might think (best remakes?).  So allow me a little latitude, as I run down ten of the better (best?) horror film sequels in recent memory.  It is ironic that while no genre is more likely to produce sequel-spawning franchises, so few horror sequels are actually any good.  A caveat... this list will not include arguably two of my favorite horror sequels as I've already written about them extensively elsewhere.  If you can't already guess which two I'm referring to, read up here and here.  And now, in glorious alphabetical order (with the exception of the 'number #1 pick')...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend Box Office (10/30/11): Puss In Boots makes muted (for Dreamworks) number-one debut, while Timberlake/Seyfried's In Time and Depp's Rum Diary underwhelm.

Dreamworks seems to have paid a price for their risky release date, as Puss In Boots (review) debuted with a comparatively soft $34 million over the weekend.  We'll find out for sure on Monday if it broke the Halloween opening weekend record (Saw III grossed $33 million on this weekend in 2006), it's still a pretty disappointing number and well below the norm for major Dreamworks cartoons.  The studio has had a healthy run on the first weekend in November for the last several years (Megamind, Madagascar 2, Bee Movie, Flushed Away), but the decision was made recently to move the film back one weekend right into the heart of the kid-friendly holiday known as Halloween. As it stands for the $130 million production, the debut is the lowest opening for a Dreamworks cartoon since Flushed Away, which debuted with just $18.8 million in November 2006 (an Aardman Animations production, it nearly doubled its $64 million US gross overseas).  While a massive snowstorm on the East Coast likely kept moviegoers indoors on Saturday and possibly Sunday, the film's $9.6 million opening day was below par as well.  As it is, the film played 59% female and 55% over-25.  It also played to a 35% Hispanic audience, while 51% of the tickets were in 3D and 7% were in IMAX.  The comparative uptick in 3D sales makes sense, since it's some of the better 3D we've seen to date.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol gets a second trailer, this time with proper music (but a lot more spoilers regarding the plot)!

This is a bit too spoilery for my tastes (Tom Wilkinsen IS Donald Sutherland!), but this second trailer for the Brad Bird-directed adventure is a solid bit of marketing none-the-less.  The violence does seem jolting and brutal while the familiar theme music (thank you...) gets an effective remixing.  Considering how much emphasis Paramount is putting on the IMAX version of this picture, it makes sense that they are selling the sheer scale and scope of the action sequences.  One caveat - the bit at 2:15 shows Tom Cruise apparently making out with female lead Paula Patton.  Fair enough, except isn't Ethan Hunt supposed to be married to Michelle Monaghan's Julia, whom we met in J.J. Abrams's prior installment?  This series has been one of the chief offenders of the whole 'revolving door of female leads' meme that often infects male-driven franchises (IE - each installment brings a new random babe and forgets about the prior romantic interest), but weren't we supposed to believe that Monoghan was basically the Tracy Di Vicenzo of the franchise?  Anyway, I don't want to obsess over a random moment that may be out of proper context.  The trailer itself looks snazzy and exciting.  This one debuts on December 16th in IMAX (yes, apparently with a six-minute Dark Knight Rises trailer attached) and December 21st everywhere.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson         

One last parody Muppet trailer, arguably the best one yet...

I've already got my unofficial invite for the All-Media screening on November 17th.  The question is now merely who I'm taking with me.  I'd like to take Allison, but she so-far seems legitimately uninterested.  So either I have a month to get her interested or I end up one of those losers who ends up seeing The Muppets without kids in tow.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I CAN be that loser!

Scott Mendelson  

07/16/99 - When the studios blew the best chance to legitimize the NC-17.

As seems to happen every year, bloggers, critics, and pundits are up-in-arms over an Oscar-bait film being awarded or threatened with an NC-17.  As usual, the film in question is a critically-acclaimed adult film with strong sexual content.  And once again, the many people arguing about this are missing the real problem.  Yes, it's annoying that ultra-violent horror films like Saw VII get R ratings while adult films with somewhat explicit sexual content get NC-17 ratings.  And yes it's annoying when somewhat more sensationalistic sexual content like that found in Black Swan gets an R while the apparently mature and allegedly thoughtful sexual content in Steve McQueen's Shame gets tagged with an NC-17.  But the problem is not with the rating, but with the enforcement of said rating.  Put simply, if major theater chains were willing to carry NC-17 pictures and mainstream media outlets would carry advertising for NC-17 pictures, then the debate over what film got what rating would be moot.  As it is, the problem with the NC-17 is not its seemingly arbitrary application (IE - far more likely for sex than for violence), but how it is viewed by the industry and the general moviegoers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pity on the working man: Why Batman: Arkham City is a better, more enjoyable game than Batman: Arkham Asylum.

So now you know why I haven't posted much in the last few days.  Last week, I retweeted my two-year old whine fest about Batman: Arkham Asylum, basically asking whether or not I should buy the sequel.  The general answer was a qualified 'no' or at least 'not until you have lots of free time to blow'.  Alas, a surprise Best Buy gift card and a more flexible work schedule proved a lethal combination, and I ended up purchasing Batman: Arkham City on Monday evening.  Since that time, I've played maybe 3-4 hours worth, sneaking in an hour here or twenty-minutes there as time allows.  To my relief and/or surprise, not only is it a pretty terrific game, it's actually far more enjoyable.  Its improvements in fact imply (falsely I'm sure) that the developers read my rant two years ago and took my concerns to heart.  Intentional or coincidentally, the game-play and narrative changes basically fixes nearly every annoyance I had with the first game.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend Box Office (10/23/11): Paranormal Activity 3 scores record October debut with $52.6 million (but it's not the top horror opening).

Despite what everyone else is reporting, Paranormal Activity 3 (review) did not set a record this weekend for the biggest opening for a horror film.  Lest we forget, Hannibal (review) opened with $58 million in February of 2001, which was actually the biggest R-rated opening ever at the time.  Anyway, Paramount's threequel/prequel will have to settle with merely being the second- biggest horror debut ever, the eighth-biggest R-rated opening, and the top October launch.  Tragic, I know. The $5 million film grossed a massive $54 million this weekend, which is a 29% jump from Paranormal Activity 2's $40.6 million opening this time last year.  The film had a massively front loaded weekend, the ninth-biggest on record, with a mere 2.02x weekend multiplier.  Still, that was better than the 2.01x weekend multiplier for Paranormal Activity 2 last year (the sixth-smallest such multiplier).  The picture played 53% under-25 and 54% female.  Considering the film pulled just in $1.7 million more at midnight, the $26 million opening day (around $6 million more than Paranormal Activity 2's $20.6 million Friday) and $12 million jump in total opening weekend compared to the last film, there is a clear growth in this series.

Review: Puss In Boots (2011) is enjoyable, exciting, and intelligent all-ages entertainment plus a master-class in doing 3D 'right'.

Puss In Boots
90 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

Puss In Boots could have just been a 'one-off' picture from the prolific Dreamworks Animation department.  As a spin-off for a popular supporting character from the Shrek series, it has arguably more built-in appeal than something along the lines of How to Train Your Dragon or Megamind.  The film is already likely to be a big hit no matter how good or bad it is.  But the gang at the current House of Katzenberg refuse to take such easy roads to profitability.  What could have been a cheap and easy spin-off is instead a surprisingly engaging and richly constructed adventure film.  It is yet another sign that Dreamworks is every bit the equal of the Mouse House and they plan on staying there not by 'having their finger on the pulse of popular culture', but by merely making really good cartoons that respect their audience.  And that's what Puss In Boots is.  It's not as breathlessly exciting as How to Train Your Dragon nor is it as epic and emotionally profound as Kung Fu Panda 2.  With strong vocals, a simple-but-satisfying story, occasionally eye-popping visuals, and another master-class in 3D, Puss In Boots is simply a darn good cartoon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) proves that the third time is not the charm.

Paranormal Activity 3
81 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

For better or worse, the Paranormal Activity series is the Where's Waldo? of horror films.  You know when the lights go down and a graphic pops up on the screen telling you what day it is that something SPOOKY is going to occur.  But since you don't know what it is, you somewhat nervously scan the screen for any clue at where the creepy sight or randomly loud noise might come from.  It's an effect that makes the film the closest thing to actually walking through a haunted house ("Hey, that door's unlocked... look out!"), which explains much of the franchise's appeal.  Half of the fun of this kind of movie is watching the crowded audience react like puppets at just the right moments.  It's ironic that this series, which arguably looks and sounds no better on a big screen than it would as a bootleg viewed on a smart phone, is one of the few that absolutely demands to be seen in the biggest, most packed theater one can find.  As a party movie, a game of sorts among friends or fellow moviegoers, it has its value.  But as a movie, this third installment is both a bit of a cop-out and, thanks to its status as a prequel, a bit of a narrative cheat.

Midnight Box Office (10/21/11): Paranormal Activity 3 scores $8 million in "midnight" shows. It's looking like a $48-52 million opening weekend.

I put the word "midnight" is quotes because Paramount was nice enough to offer 10pm shows in many theaters last night as well as the customary 12:01am screenings.  So, with the announcement that Paranormal Activity 3 made $8 million last night, I'm going to assume that they mean the 10pm and 12:01am shows.  While there may be some folks (like myself in fact) who checked out a 10pm screening who would not have bothered with a midnight showing, it stands to reason that most of the people who checked out a 10pm screening probably wouldn't have had much of a problem pulling a midnight shift either, so for the moment let's presume the effect of those blessed 10pm showings are negligible.  The math on this one is pretty easy.  If you recall, it was Paranormal Activity 2 and it's $6.3 million midnight gross this time last year that led me to start playing this game of 'midnight-to-weekend math'.  That sequel scored a record at the time for an R-rated midnight debut, which has since been beaten by the $10 million 12:01am showings of The Hangover part II.  Paranormal Activity 2, befitting its appeal as a midnight party movie (last night's audience was more fun than the movie itself), pulled in a hefty 15.5% of its $40.6 million weekend total at midnight.  A similar performance for this picture would give it an opening weekend total of $51 million.  So it stands to reason that the third picture should do about the same number, perhaps a little more due to progressive sequel-front-loading.  So, offhand, the opening weekend for Paranormal Activity 3 should fall somewhere between $48 million (if the number is 16.5% of its total) and $59 million (if the midnight number is just an unlikely 13.5% of its total).  Either way, Paramount has another cheap smash hit on its hand, which guarantees that we'll be seeing Paranormal Activity 4 this time next year.  Now I'm off to write my review.

Scott Mendelson     

Review: Paul W.S. Anderson's The Three Musketeers (2011) makes the (underrated) Disney version look like The Mask of Zorro.

The Three Musketeers
110 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

What is most unexpected about this umpteenth version of the Alexander Dumas novel is how generic it feels. Despite the use of 3D (FYI - I watched this film in glorious 2D) and a few bits of Mila Jovovich choreography, this movie could very well have been made in 1993 or 2001, which is when of course the last two stabs at this story were released.  It's the general same plot as always, with a few bits of the comparatively faithful Richard Lester versions from 1973 and 1974 thrown in (the last two didn't spent much time on stolen jewelry), and lacking any real visual reinvention that would make it stand out.  The lack of anything 'new' wouldn't be as much of a problem if the ingredients weren't so half-baked.  But Paul W.S. Anderson's The Three Musketeers is pretty much just another mediocre adaptation.  It's better than The Musketeer (IE - Three Musketeers with a bit of wire-kung fu), but that's not saying much.  At best, it makes one realize how good that oft-maligned Disney adaptation from 1993 really was.  Stephen Herek's all-star version may have been overtly kid-friendly, but it got the basics right.  As always, if you don't like the actual Musketeers, you aren't going to get much out of their adventure.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas gets a red-band trailer.

While this is just a touch spoilery, it does seem to be an improvement over the wretched second picture.  It's obvious that this franchise is going ever-more surreal, leaving behind the quasi-realism (stoned jaguars aside) of the first film.  One thing that does impress me is the continued presence of Paula Garcés.  She was basically Harold's 'prize to be won' in the first film, while she barely merited a cameo in the second, yet she again appears here, apparently now as Harold's wife.  In an age when male-centric franchises treat their female characters like disposables to be replaced by the newest flavor of the month in the next installment, it is refreshing that this series has bothered to maintain continuity (the Kumar's would-be love interest from Escape From Guantanamo Bay, Danneel Ackles, also makes a return appearance).  But on a different note, not only is Christopher Meloni apparently absent from this go-around, but his identical twin Elias Koteas is listed on the IMDB cast page as "Sergei Katsov".  Me thinks that Meloni was unavailable so the producers went for the logical replacement.  Anyway, this one drops on November 4th, and I can't imagine it will be worse than the first sequel, although hoping for something as brilliant as the initial installment is a fool's errand.

Scott Mendelson   

Review: Snowmen (2011) is a lightweight family film that doesn't pander to its young audience and deals frankly with mortality.

85 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

When I was quite a bit younger, I was always impressed by family films and/or kid-pics that acknowledged harsh truths of life and/or dealt frankly with darker subject matters.  Of course, in today's marketplace, what we consider 'kids films' are basically the same PG-13 rated blockbusters that everyone else sees and/or the mass-market PG-rated animated pictures that attempt to entertain adults and kids at the same time.  Since there are fewer and fewer big-studio films made for adults, it stands to reason that there is less of a need for explicitly kid-friendly movies of this nature.  Nonetheless, if you have young kids and want some middle ground between Cars 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Snowmen will likely fit the bill.  It is a throwback of sorts to the kind of movie that seemed tailor-made to be screened in elementary schools during 'movie day'.  It is a product of an age where kids still needed movies that were appropriate for them and didn't always have to talk down to them.

Review: Johnny English Reborn (2011) is mostly uninspired, but it's painless and harmless with at least one great scene.

Johnny English Reborn
101 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

It's obviously a bit of a left-handed compliment to refer to a film as 'not torture' or 'relatively watchable', but sometimes there are no better adjectives.  Johnny English Reborn is a slight film, a generally by-the-numbers spy spoof greenlit primarily because the first film grossed $160 million worldwide back in 2003 (most of that from overseas markets).  The first Johnny English was notable mostly for John Malkovich hamming it up as the villain, in a performance that contained an atrociously funny French accent and a nugget of trivia for those who've seen Being John Malkovich (hint - his character steals the Crown Jewels).  Revisiting it, it is remarkable how much its narrative (bumbling paper-pusher gets to be a real agent when the other secret operatives are massacred offscreen) was stolen for the Steve Carrell/Anne Hathaway Get Smart adaptation five years later.  So, nine years later, we now have Johnny English Reborn.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Lucky McGee and Jack Ketchum's The Woman (2011) is thoughtful and insightful, but more entertaining to talk about than to watch.

The Woman
101 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Lucky McGee's The Woman, based on a novel written by McGee and novelist Jack Ketchum, is at once a probing bit of social commentary and a relatively dry horror picture.  It is easy to respect and admire due to its thesis, while it must be acknowledged that it gets where it wants to go pretty quickly and spends much of the rest of the film biding time.  The picture does build tension through silence, and its performances are spot-on throughout.  But its intentions are not subtle and McGee and company plays their hand by the end of the first act.  As a thoughtful and pointed examination of how the patriarchy operates as a tool for gender domination, as well as a look at how society plays 'Pygmalion' to women as a whole, it is worth a look and worthy of merit.  But it works better as a thesis statement than as a piece of genre entertainment.

Would Warner risk hurting Sherlock Holmes 2 to promote The Dark Knight Rises?

Put this one in the 'crazy rumor that seems self-defeating' category.  Slashfilm is reporting (as a rumor, to be fair) that Warner Bros. may be attaching an eight-minute IMAX preview of The Dark Knight Rises to IMAX prints of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  On the surface, it makes sense. Warner Bros. debuted the shot-in-IMAX prologue for The Dark Knight in front of IMAX prints of I Am Legend back in December 2007 while debuting the conventional two-minute trailer in front of 35mm prints of the same film on the same day.  Since Warner Bros doesn't have an IMAX film coming out this holiday season, and since Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol has about 25 minutes worth of IMAX footage, it certainly seems a logical match. But there is a BIG 'BUT' here.

Now THAT'S more like it! Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows gets a darker, more engrossing trailer that highlights Moriarty accordingly.

It is perhaps worth noting that this sequel was intended to be in 3D when it was announced early last year, but now the plan seems to be going for pure 2D.  Make of that what you will... I'm still miffed that Jared Harris is not getting billing as arch-fiend Professor James Moriarty, but that's a small quibble.  What matters is that this trailer sets up a darker, more violent, and more expansive adventure rather than just selling overly broad humor.  Yes, there is some bawdiness, but there is a clear establishing of the grand stakes, along with the implication that Moriarty is racking up a tidy body count in the process.  I wish they hadn't revealed the respective gag at 1:55, but I am glad that they've stopped hiding the fact that Rachel McAdams is indeed returning for this go-around.  While the trailer does seem action-packed, with explosions and gunfire galore, it is heartening to notice that most of the action beats seem to be from two major sequences (a chase/gun-battle in the woods and the train sequence).  I'm also glad to see Eddie Marsan returning as Inspector Lestrade, both because I like the actor and I'm a big proponent of maintaining character continuity for sequels of this nature.  Anyway, this is a far superior trailer to the one that debuted in July, so hopes remain high that the sequel will at least be as good as the rock-solid original picture.  No, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes wasn't as good as the BBC Sherlock series.  Yes, I'm still allowed to enjoy them both.  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens on December 16th, so as always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson   

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin gets a dynamite domestic trailer and moody poster.

The poster came from Drew McWeeny's HitFix (click to 'embiggen'), so credit where credit is due.  What's best about this trailer, aside from the overall quality of what is shown, is the implication that Steven Spielberg and Paramount are in fact holding back the really good stuff for actual ticket-buyers.  I'm not one to speak about 'American Exceptionalism' and/or 'Manifest Destiny', but I do take great umbrage at Paramount's decision to open this one in Europe two months before we Americans get to sample it.  I get the concept.  The characters are far more popular in Europe and other foreign markets than they are in America, so Paramount wants to use the likely overseas success to build word of mouth and positive reviews.  But skimming the rave reviews that have already come out while knowing we still have two months to wait is the rare sort of thing to make me openly whine about 'America First!' and all that silliness.  We're Americans after all, so we expect instant gratification!  Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson's The Adventures of Tintin: We want it NOW!

Scott Mendelson  

Random thoughts on that Drive trailer lawsuit...

As sometimes happens, I commented on someone else's blog (in this case, David Poland's The Hot Blog) and what was supposed to be a random bit or two turned into a mini-essay.  So for those so inclined, here is my 'official essay on the Drive lawsuit'.  Oh, here is the actual complaint for those who want details that I don't feel like repeating.  And try not to laugh when attorney Martin H. Leaf calls Nikki Finke a "respected film critic and “Hollywood insider”.  Anyway, I do have some reviews up later this week, so apologies for the somewhat second-hand content.  Enjoy.

It’s no secret I kinda hated Drive (review 01 and 02), but I did not even watch the trailer before seeing it, so one cannot conclude that the low (and highly unscientific) Cinemascore grade is directly related to the marketing (IE – majority opinion aside for the moment, it could just be that it’s not a good movie). I didn’t watch the trailer before seeing the movie (I had correctly heard that it was spoiler-filled), but if I had and thought the movie looked good based on the trailer, would I have a cause of action? Most trailers technically make the movie ‘look good’. If the studios have a bad movie, is merely advertising that film in a way that makes it look good a case for fraud?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Box Office (10/16/11): Real Steel tops Footloose remake, Thing prequel.

 In a somewhat surprising turn, Real Steel (review) repeated at the top of the box office, defeating a Footloose remake and a prequel to The Thing.  As always, it's not about the ranking but about the numbers themselves.  So it appears that audiences do want SOME originality in their mainstream film-making, even if its merely choosing a shameless rip-off of other movies over a pure remake.  Anyway, Real Steel cashed in on its solid audience word-of-mouth and its kid-appeal to earn $16.2 million in its second weekend.  That's a drop of just 40%, which in this day-and-age qualifies as leggy for a major genre entry. The film, which allegedly cost either $80 million or $140 million (I believe the former), has now grossed $51 million.  It's not going to be an uber-smash without a few more holds like this weekend, but it now has an outside chance at reaching $100 million domestic, with similar-or-better results to follow overseas.  Point being, it's actually a decent movie, putting its admittedly generic but effective father/son drama before robot-fighting spectacle, which at least partially explains the strong hold this weekend.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

When 'on track' becomes a 'disappointing': The perils of early box office reporting...

At 3:28pm yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter sent out links to an article regarding early box office estimates based purely on afternoon matinees on the East Coast.  In it, they claimed that Paramount's Footloose remake was on track to gross $20 million for the weekend, which was considered a solid win as tracking had put the film at between $15 million and $18 million going into Friday.  Yet by midnight, the numbers had been revised, both by The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood.  Now the number is at around $5.57 million for Friday, which means that the 80s remake looks to gross around $16-17 million (of course, official Friday estimates will be out in a couple hours...).  So, as expected, Nikki Finke is screaming about how the number is 'disappointing', with yet another seemingly-invented quote from a studio executive about how the industry is 'DOOMED!'.  Yes, some of this is just Finke being Finke where every weekend is a failure and every movie is terrible.  But we have a situation where a film was 'doing better than expected' in the late afternoon, yet was a disappointment despite opening right in line with tracking because the earliest-of-early estimates were a bit over-inflated.  Yes yes, I know I spent the summer guessing the weekend box office grosses for major summer films based on midnight grosses, so perhaps I may be a hypocrite.  BUT, I didn't run around screaming 'bomb!' because a film's opening weekend didn't open right in line with my purely-for-fun midnight math.  As it is, I'd argue it's good news that an 80s remake that no one wanted and a prequel to an 80s horror film (which is in itself a remake of a 50s horror film) that no one didn't explode at the box office (The Thing looks to do around $10 million, give or take).  Maybe the world wants more than remakes and revamps of the movies they grew up with...

Scott Mendelson

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Real Steel does right in the realm of blockbuster filmmaking...

Real Steel is not a great movie.  It's barely a good one, and as I've joke elsewhere, it's basically so shamelessly recycled from other movies that it qualifies as environmentally-friendly.  But it does do one thing quite right, one thing that makes it stand out and serves as a token reminder when it comes to making these big-budget genre pictures.  There has been much debate about the film's budget.  Rival executives claim it cost $140 million, while director Shawn Levy claims it cost just over $80 million.  Now that I've seen the film, I can confirm that I am more likely to believe Levy himself.  I don't mean that as an insult, quite the contrary.  Despite the fact that it takes place in the world of robot-boxing, it is a (relatively effective) human drama first and a robot-smashing spectacle second.  If the film did end up costing $140 million, than something went horribly wrong during production.  I say that because the movie feels and looks cheap, and I mean that in a good way.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Muppets gets a second domestic trailer.

This looks about as amusing as the previous spots, with big bonus points for giving Statler and Waldorf the best joke in the trailer.  I shared my thoughts the other day when the international trailer dropped, so I'll just LINK accordingly.

Scott Mendelson

Mc G's This Means War trailer is emblematic of what's wrong with marketing.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this trailer per-se.  It's neat to see Tom Hardy in a comedy, Witherspoon looks stunning, and the general plot (two CIA agents clash when they realize they are dating the same girl) is fitfully amusing.  But here's the problem.  In the first 66 seconds, we meet the two spies (Hardy and Chris Pine) and the young woman they are both dating (Reese Witherspoon).  We establish the conflict, toss off a few jokes and, with the opening action montage, establish that this will be a pretty big-scale action comedy.  So, after about 1:06, we have all we need.  Flash the title, maybe give a button gag, and then fade to black.  The remaining 85 seconds merely exist to spoil gags from the film.  And since we've established that this is a pretty expensive movie, it's pretty much guaranteed that the film will only have maybe half-a-dozen or so major 'give-and-take' moments between the two would-be suitors.  The trailer sees fit to spoil three of them, plus a major action sequence between the two male leads.  So basically all that is left for the movie to do is reveal whatever gags weren't in the trailer and reveal the finale*.  How wonderful would it have been for 20th Century Fox to merely leave the majority of the movie to our imagination, to merely cut to black at the 1:06 mark with the satisfaction of perfectly setting up the movie without actually giving anything away past the first twenty-minutes or so.  Alas... Anyway, McG's This Means War comes out February 17th, 2012 (better to capitalize on Valentine's Day) and as always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

*SPOILER GUESS --- I'm guessing that either Witherspoon gets kidnapped by the bad guys in the third act or (especially since she gets first billing) she turns out to be a spy using them for intel.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows gets two new character posters.

Collider first posted these, but they are pretty self-explanatory.  It will be interesting to see if Warner Bros. releases any more in the coming days, highlight Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry), or Sim (Noomi Rapace).  The cost that comes with casting a character as your prime villain is that you don't get much mileage out of him/her from a marketing standpoint.  Kudos to Guy Ritchie for not just going for the first big star to say yes, but as a result Warner Bros is stuck basically advertising a sequel that offers little in the way of anything different from the first picture.  Ironically, this is the same (relative) problem that Paramount had with Iron Man 2, as it too was stuck with a villain that wasn't quite iconic (Whiplash?) played by that box office-dynamo Mickey Rourke.  Obviously Iron Man 2 opened with $128 million two summers ago compared to the first film's $100 million 3.5-day opening, so something went right. I'm sure Warner Bros. would be thrilled with a similar 28% jump in opening weekend grosses, which would net Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows $79 million over its first three days.  It will be interesting to see if Warner Bros. cuts a second trailer between now and December, and if so if they find a way to sell Moriarty to a mass audience.

Scott Mendelson  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Avengers trailer delivers kaboom, but it looks oddly small, soulless, artless.

Well, this is indeed a teaser for The Avengers.  I don't expect to see a ton of new footage behind what was teased in the Captain America credits sequence last July, but I am weary that this trailer is actually a perfect example of what I discussed yesterday.  While the film seems action packed, you'll notice that 80% of the action beats seem to be from the same exterior sequence, which is indeed the finale of the picture (with the remaining 20% apparently from a second-act invasion of the 'hall of justice').  With a budget of $220 million, only $20 million more than the nearly action-less Iron Man 2, will the film be mostly set-up for one giant battle in the last 20-30 minutes?  What we do see looks fine, if a bit small in scale and lacking any real sense of art or purpose.  Yes the special effects are not done, and I wonder if we'll see alien ships in that big shot of the randomly exploding cars in the final cut, but what's there pales in comparison to the sense of scale found in any number of big tentpoles of late (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, even Battle: Los Angeles).  It's characters we know and love basically posing for the camera (with Johansson again causing an explosion with her farting) and trying to convince us, the already converted, how bad-ass these heroes allegedly are.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Muppets gets another trailer, and more character posters.

I actually had a chance to see this way back in August when it 'test-screened' at a nearby AMC.  Three days after the screening, the film had its PG-rating, meaning that it was likely the final cut.  Alas, my daughter wouldn't pretend to be six-years old and claimed she didn't like the Muppets, so I threw a spoon at her head (in my mind...).  The trailer above is pretty broad, but it's actually a trailer for the actual movie (as opposed to a spoof trailer) and it openly admits the difficulties that the film will face in terms of appealing to the younger audiences.  We adults are psyched, but will we have to drag our kids by the hair?  Anyway, enjoy this trailer and feast on the four posters (from I presume the UK as it lists a December 29th release date) after the jump. I'm sure you can guess which one is my favorite.  Thanks to Bleeding Cool for putting all four posters in one easily 'borrowed' photo file.

Scott Mendelson

As Film District gets sued over a 'misleading' Drive trailer, here are five more classic previews that mastered the art of the false-sell.

I'm sure you've heard by now (first spread by The Hot Blog and about the woman in Detroit, Michigan who is suing Film District over what she felt was a misleading trailer for the Ryan Gosling vehicle Drive (review). Basically, she feels that the film was sold as an action-packed variation on The Fast and the Furious but instead delivering a well, I'm guessing most of you reading this have seen the movie or at least know enough about it to fill in the blanks (my additional thoughts).  The lawsuit has the added spice of accusing the film of anti-semitism, I suppose because both of the villains were Jewish (as a Jewish film fan, I'm all for more Jewish bad guys).  While we may agree that the trailer was a little misleading, it is just a part of a longtime pattern of selling somewhat artier films as if they were just normal mainstream genre entries.  But you already knew that.  Actually, the trailer's biggest sin was blatantly revealing the entire movie (including nearly every action moment) in nearly chronological order, but that's another story.  So in honor of this relatively absurd lawsuit (long-story short - there were no real damages behind the movie ticket and no real pain/suffering to merit additional monetary reward), let's take a stroll down memory lane at some classic examples of film-marketing misdirection.

Relativity releases a bunch of photos, but no title, for their Snow White film.

I don't usually post about every photo from every movie, but Relativity was nice enough to send me a batch of photos all in one handy file, so why not?  Anyway, we get glances at Lily Collins as Snow White, Julia Roberts as 'the Wicked Queen', Arnie Hammer as 'the Prince', and all seven dwarves.  While most of the pictures try to sell the 'fairy-tale beauty' and/or 'virginal innocence' of the title character, the best picture is the cast photo above.  Not only is Collins actually smiling, there is a sense of playful wickedness that is lacking from the other photos.  Obviously the Tarsem Singh project will be visually scrumptious, and I'm all for films that actually have bright and bold colors, but I still fear for an industry that feels the need to have three (3!) Snow White projects coming out over the next year.  Anyway, the other bazillion photos are after the jump.  Enjoy.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Box Office (10/09/11): Real Steel wins over the kids and wins the weekend with $27 million, while Ides of March does the 'Clooney average'.

There were two major releases this weekend, and both of them more-or-less did what was expected of them.  Disney/Dreamworks unleashed the robot-boxing/father-son drama Real Steel, which easily topped the weekend.  Of course, as always, ranking is irrelevant except for their use in second-week ads, so the real question is whether or not its $27.3 million debut is a good number.  First of all, the film scored a solid A from Cinemascore, with an A+ from audiences under 25 (which again, only means something if it opens well in the first place).  Second of all, the film indeed did play like a family film, with an $8.5 million Friday giving way to a solid 3.2x weekend multiplier (family films generally see a boost on Saturday as the kids flood the matinees). The weekend multiplier and audience polling could mean that the Hugh Jackman film will have decent legs as the family film of choice until Puss In Boots opens on October 28th (yes, by moving the film one week up, Dreamworks Animation/Paramount has potentially hurt Dreamworks/Disney).  As for whether or not the film is a hit at this point (check out the movie that it seems to oddly resemble HERE), that depends on who you ask about the film's budget.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Blu Ray Review: Batman: Year One (2011) - A solid, rigidly faithful adaptation that highlights the danger with adapting overly literate comics.

Batman: Year One
64 minutes
rated PG-13
Available for download on October 11th, available to purchase on October 18th from WHV

by Scott Mendelson

The ideas and concepts first found in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One have been so pilfered through and copied over the last 25 years that it feels a little strange to see this work adapted for film without any narrative alterations.  It feels like less of a stand-alone movie and more of a time-capsule of sorts, a touchstone to one of the more important comic books of its generation.  What works in the book still works in the movie, although this rigidly faithful adaptation exposes the problems of adapting a relatively literate comic book into an action picture.  The film is so visually and narratively faithful that it often resembles a high-end motion comic.  For those who have never read the original story, the film works as a rock-solid Batman origin story which remains one of the better Jim Gordon stories.  And for those who have always wanted to see this tale translated to film (animated or live-action), you'll get what you paid for.  Batman: Year One is a faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's four-part series, but its slavish devotion threatens to render it not particularly necessary.

Review: The Human Centipede II (2011) - I get the joke, but it's still boring.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)
85 minutes
Not Rated

by Scott Mendelson

I get the joke.  Really, I do.  I get that Tom Six has made an 'up yours' movie that is basically an attack against everyone who had anything to say about the first Human Centipede (review). It sticks its tongue out at those who thought the film was grotesque and morally offensive.  It reams those who were upset at how much of the violence was suggested or off screen.  It mocks those who called it a grand piece of art, finding hidden meanings and symbolic complexities that arguably were never there in the first place.  It is a meta-film, an overt post-modernist commentary on the series, the nature of sequels, and the horror genre itself, as well as those who make and watch them.  That's nice, but The Human Centipede II is a genuinely boring and ultimately obnoxious motion picture.  Despite some genuine attempts of some kind of social commentary unto itself, the film remains only worth seeing purely for the sake of saying that you've seen it.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Universal to offer Tower Heist on Video On Demand 3 weeks after theatrical debut.

It could be a game-changer or could just be an irrelevant blip (it's so hard to tell sometimes).  The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Universal has announced a (very) limited test run with offering premium-priced Video On Demand for Brett Ratner's all-star caper comedy Tower Heist (trailer) just three weeks after the film's November 4th theatrical debut.  Long-story short, if you live in Atlanta or Portland and get your cable TV via Comcast (which now of course owns Universal), you will have the option of purchasing a (I presume) one-time viewing of the Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy film for 'just' $59.99 just three weeks after the theatrical opening weekend (which I presume means the start of its fourth weekend in theaters).  Other online or cable companies will allegedly have the option to offer this same service at the same time, but we'll see if anyone else bites.  The price point is obviously intended to appeal for larger families or large groups of friends who don't have to see the newest releases right away, but don't want to wait until DVD and the other various home-video platforms.

Steven Spielberg's Adventures of Tintin gets another exciting trailer.

I haven't been keeping up with the Adventures of Tintin trailers, but this continues to look like a rather thrilling old-school adventure movie.  The cast (Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, etc) seems game and the action sequences seem worth seeing on the biggest possible screen.  That zipline gag that closes out the teaser looks sublime...

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Steven Spielberg's War Horse gets a very Steven Spielberg-y trailer.

As amazing as it is to believe, this the once-prolific Steven Spielberg's first pure drama since Munich six years ago.  At worst, this feels like a Steven Spielberg trailer made by someone spoofing or aping what conventional wisdom says a Steven Spielberg movie is supposed to be (hmm... did J.J. Abrams's cut this spot?).  I'm a little iffy on the whole 'millions are slaughtered in World War I but the horse perseveres!', but that may be my problem.  Still, the film looks gorgeous and will surely be well-acted by the likes of Neils Arustrup, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, and Tim Hiddleston, among others.  I'll likely convince my wife to see this the same way I'll get her to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy... the presence of Benedict Cumberbatch.  My wife is a big fan of the BBC Sherlock series, and she 'digs' Cumberbatch in the same way I 'dig' Tina Fey and Allison Brie.  In the end, it's good to see Spielberg is still tackling ambitious material like this, as well as the motion-capture adventure The Adventures of Tin Tin, which opens just a week prior.

Disney to unleash four 3D relaunches in 2012/2013. What do their choices mean?

I was actually going to do a post this week about which movies I think Disney should re-release next, should they decide to relaunch their 'from the vault' program that was once a mainstay of their theatrical distribution pipeline. But it seems that The Mouse House has beaten me to it.  Following the massive success of The Lion King 3D (over $80 million domestic, enough to get it over the $400 million mark), Disney is indeed going full-bore with a slate of 'classics' that will be released back into theaters with 3D conversions.  To wit, on January 13th, 2012, Disney will debut Beauty and the Beast.  This makes sense as the next release, as the 3D-conversion is already completed and it played to relatively positive notices in limited release earlier this year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close gets extremely cloying and incredibly pandering Oscar-bait trailer.

There is a Law and Order episode from late 2002 that deals with a woman who was murdered right before 9/11 and dumped around the World Trader Center wreckage, creating the impression that she was another victim of said terror attacks.  As the truth slowly comes out, there is resistance from the victim's mother, who doesn't want to believe that her daughter was merely a victim of infidelity gone wrong.  Point being, the grieving mother wants to believe that her daughter died in the 9/11 attacks, as if that specific violent end would give her death more importance than if she were merely a victim on a 'normal' murder.  I bring this up because the trailer above, as well as the hoopla surrounding it, is a prime example of what is arguably '9/11 porn'.  In that, I merely mean that it (this trailer and apparently the original Jonathan Safran Foer book as well) uses the 9/11 attacks to add a level of 'importance and prestige' that the story itself does not earn.  Whether the movie is good or not, ask yourself this: Would the film be getting the same sheer amount of preordained Oscar buzz and/or presumptions that it's a 'very important movie' if Tom Hank's character was shot to death in a convenience store robbery?

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol gets an IMAX poster.

I'm not going to rehash everything I wrote about the film's IMAX debut, so go HERE for my thoughts on the potentially groundbreaking early release.  Oh, and go HERE for the trailer, which is pretty great save for the lack of the iconic Mission: Impossible music.  For those who demand such things, here is the official studio synopsis:

"Director Brad Bird and Producer J.J. Abrams bring us the action packed, entertainment event of the holiday season with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL. This is not just another mission. The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot. Ghost Protocol is initiated and Ethan Hunt and his rogue new team must go undercover to clear their organization’s name. No help, no contact, off the grid. You have never seen a mission grittier and more intense than this."
Scott Mendelson

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Box Office (10/02/11): Dolphin Tale tops as top-3 from last weekend remain top-3 this weekend, fending off four new releases.

 Four new releases fought for a piece of the box office pie and, with the exception of a lower-profile Christian drama playing in 1,100 screens, none of them had much bite.  The top three movies from last weekend were the top three movies this weekend as well, just in different order.  The top film of the weekend was Dolphin Tale, which actually rose two spots from its third-place debut last weekend.  More impressive than its ranking (as rankings are less important than actual numbers) is its mere 27% drop. The $37 million 'help a wounded dolphin' family drama grossed another $13.9 million and now has a ten-day cume of $37 million.    It's not a boffo figure, but the film is obviously playing well, especially in the face of the return of Simba (more on that in a minute).  And if Disney really does pull The Lion King 3D from theaters next weekend (no word yet, but the Blu Ray streets this Tuesday), it will have the family market to itself until October 28th, which is where Dreamworks moved Puss In Boots just a couple days ago (it was supposed to launch on November 4th).


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