Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Sleeping Beauty (2011) has strong ideas in service of a lifeless film.

Sleeping Beauty
105 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

It is not fair to writer/director Julia Leigh that I have such strong feelings about Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch.  (here, here, and here). It is not fair that I was so utterly annoyed by the critical community's absolute refusal to even acknowledge the rather unsubtle subtext and ideas that justified the fantastical elements.  It is perhaps ironic that within the same year we get two Emily Browning pictures that are sexually-charged and are knee deep in some rather pointed social commentary about how women are viewed in the culture.  Broadly speaking, Sleeping Beauty and Sucker Punch have many of the same ideas and opinions about the wholesale objectification of women.  Unfortunately, while Sucker Punch has fantastical environments and jaw-dropping action sequences to justify its existence as pop entertainment, Sleeping Beauty frankly has little to offer but its ideas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

DVD Review: Smallville: the Complete Series

Smallville the Complete Series DVD box set
Warner Bros. home video
Available Tuesday, November 29th
9,261 minutes (and thirty-seven seconds)
Not rated

by Scott Mendelson

This one is pretty simple, folks.  I liked Smallville during its initial five years, when the series had a pretty clear narrative arc.  However, when the show picked up surprising ratings strength during its fifth (what was to be its final) season, the show became a giant waiting game, as the creators kept trying to arbitrarily keep the show alive through guest stars and cast replacements as the CW failed to launch successful replacements.  I gave up at the end of season seven, although I kept up with major plot points and did tune in for the series finale last May.  By the time Clark Kent became Superman, it was the definition of anti-climax.  He had already gone through pretty much all of the major Superman beats and encountered pretty much every major friend or foe that the he had already been Superman in all-but name and costume for four or five years already.  Still, through hell and high water, the show was an uncommonly ambitious bit of fantasy storytelling, revamping the Superman mythos in a way that made sense for series television and creating its own mythology that can stand alongside the movies, Lois and Clark, Superman: the Animated Series, and the comic books themselves as a 'proper' Superman epic.

Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) is Smart, Suspenseful, Engaging, Terrific.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy
128 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Tomas Alfredson so badly wants to concoct a 1970s-style thriller that it would be laughable if the final product weren't so darn good.  From the somewhat hazy cinematography to the John Barry-ish score to the overtly cold and clinical nature of the narrative, this is a film that (appropriately) wants to take us back to what many consider to the peak of mainstream adult filmmaking.  What makes the picture work as more than just an acting-treat or period-homage is the undertone of impotence and irrelevance that makes the film into a grand tragedy.  By retaining the 1970s setting, Alfredson makes potent commentary about the futile and possibly irrelevant nature of modern espionage.  Point being, forty years later, none of the secrets that were fought over mean a damn thing anymore.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trailer: Ice Age 4 celebrates Scrat's 10th year trying to get a single acorn.

Yes, the first Ice Age was released in Spring of 2002, so it will soon be ten years since Scrat first started trying to catch that infernal acorn.  The third Ice Age was one of the most successful films of all time overseas.  As of this writing, it's seventh-biggest foreign haul of all time, it was third back in 2009.  So a sequel was inevitable.  For what it's worth, the third picture (Dawn of the Dinosaurs) was pretty entertaining, and even in a second-run 2D screening you could tell that those who paid for 3D got their money's worth.  I will always have a certain fondness for said third entry, as it's the first movie I took my daughter to, just shy of her second birthday.  To my surprise, she more or less sat in rapt attention, only losing interest during the final reel.  Yes, Scrat was her favorite character.  Fox drops this one on July 13th, 2012.  If Allison wants to go, I will be seeing it accordingly.  Thanks to Digital Spy for the 'get'.

Scott Mendelson          

Review: Young Adult (2011)

Young Adult
95 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

I have often written about what I feel is a distinct double-standard when it comes to the relative morality of female protagonists (or even major female supporting characters) compared to their male counterparts.  Put simply, a male character can be a murderous criminal or a duplicitous emotional con-man and still be considered an 'anti-hero' if not a hero if he's doing it for a (pick one) hot girl, child, and/or animal.  But female characters are often judged as 'unworthy' (read - 'bitches') if they exhibit the slightest bit of selfish impulse and/or self-interest, and/or if they show the slight amount of characteristics which may be classified as 'unsympathetic'.  Male characters of this nature are considered 'complex', while female characters are considered 'unsympathetic' or 'unable to connect with audiences'.  Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody's Young Adult will be an interesting test case.  Aside from its other merits, it represents a star vehicle for a major actress (Charlize Theron) whose primary character does not bravely overcome adversity but rather openly causes adversity to those around her.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekend Box Office (11/27/11): Breaking Dawn part I tops Thanksgiving weekend, while Muppets shines in family film pile-up and limited debuts score.

 As expected, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I (essay) topped the holiday weekend box office as three new family films (including The Muppets) and three limited releases more-or-less cannibalized each other.  The big opener of the weekend was The Muppets (review).  All eyes were watching this much-hyped franchise revival, and the fans did not let Kermit and company down.  The picture, which Disney wisely spent just $45 million to produce, grossed $29.5 million on Fri-Sun and $42 million over its five-day opening.  The film (deservedly) scored an A from Cinemascore, although I don't know the demo stats yet (IE - did kids actually choose to see it and/or like it, or were the jerks dragged by their parents?).  As it is, the film is already the second biggest grossing Muppet movie of all time, out of seven, coming in under the $65 million gross of The Muppet Movie back in 1979.  Inflation-wise, The Muppets will have to gross $90 million to achieve that rank, although surpassing the adjusted-for-inflation $206 million gross of The Muppet Movie is pretty unlikely.  In even better (if arbitrary) news, the utter lack of any wide releases next weekend plus the likely downward plunge for Breaking Dawn part I means that The Muppets will likely top the box office next weekend.  So there clearly is an audience for this 35-year old franchise, all Disney has to do now is not overestimate their appeal.  Point being, if Disney decides to make a film sequel (as opposed to a new TV series or what-have-you), they shouldn't be spending $100 million on it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers...

I still think Christina Ricci should have at least received an Oscar nomination for this one, if not an outright win...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(Mini) Review: Hugo (2011) features the best live-action 3D you've ever seen, in service of a powerful and enchanting fable.

127 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

Pardon my theoretical laziness, but I'm not in the mood to do a formal review for Martin Scorsese's Hugo.  And frankly, since I went in knowing almost nothing aside from the general time period and a few of the actors, I suppose I should do my readers the same courtesy.  But know this: Martin Scorsese has crafted the most impressive and beautiful 3D you've ever seen in a live action film.  Since the film somewhat revolves around the early days of cinema (it takes place in 1930s Paris), Scorsese uses 3D technology to create a dreamlike visual palette that attempts to replicate what it was like for the very first moviegoers, the ones who allegedly jumped out of the way of speeding trains and ducked when the train robber fired his pistol at the screen.  There are times when this live-action feature feels like a living cartoon, and I experienced a kind of fever-dream sensation that I haven't felt since Coraline.  If ever there was a movie to justify that 3D ticket-price bump, this is it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oscar Speculation - Last but not least - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close wants to be the Million Dollar Baby (or the John Kerry) of the 2011 Oscar race.

There was much speculation over the last couple of days over Warner Bros' decision not to make sure that Stephen Daldry's 9/11 drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in time for the first batch of critics' awards.  The first official screening will be December 2nd (no, I probably won't be attending that early), which means that the Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock drama won't be eligible for consideration for the National Board of Review or the New York Film Critics Circle, both of which are so consumed with being 'the first' to announce their year-end plaudits that they aren't even waiting until the last month of the year.  The rumblings run the gamut from 'it won't be done in time' to 'it's not that good' to 'we want to capitalize on positive audience word of mouth'.  All or none of those could be true.  But I think that Warner Bros. is playing a slightly different game.

Waited for DVD: Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (2011) - a darker, more pessimistic family adventure that reflects a director's broken home.

Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World
89 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

In a world where even G-rated cartoons seem aimed at somewhat adult sensibilities, the Spy Kids franchise was and is arguably the last of its kind: a full-blown franchise for kids and pitched directly to a younger audience.  All three prior films suffer from a bit too much kid-centric dialogue and on-the-nose moralizing, but they all also have a certain quirky and visually dynamic charm.  Spy Kids was a blast of fresh air in early 2001, coming ironically just before Shrek would change the landscape of kid-friendly entertainment for good.  It was endlessly colorful and inventive with an all-star cast (Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cummings, Tony Shalhoub, Robert Patrick, Cheech Marin, and Danny Trejo in perhaps his first-ever good guy role) to support the title characters (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara).  The second film, Spy Kids 2: Island of the Lost Dreams, was arguably inferior, but it contain its share of entertainment value, as well as a dynamite action sequence to close out the first act.  The third picture, Spy Kids 3: Game Over, was the last red/blue 3D picture, as well as the last big-screen 3D film in around 15 years.  It was pretty much a glorified video game, but it contained a stellar race sequence that put the Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace pod-race to shame, as well as a heartbreaking finale monologue from Ricardo Montalban.  Now, eight years after the previous installment and ten years since the series began, we have Spy Kids 4D: All the Time in the World.  It's not a good film, but it does have surprising potency if you view it through the lens of a Robert Rodriguez who is no longer the quintessential family man, both as a filmmaker and as a husband/father.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pre-release tracking for The Muppets shows that today's kids are assholes.

The New York Magazine blog Vulture has an article detailing the box office tracking for the three major family-skewing Thanksgiving releases set to drop this Wednesday.  For the purposes of this commentary, we'll be focusing on the pre-release data for The Muppets (review).  It appears that we are raising a nation of Statler and Waldorfs... According to NRG research polls:

Actual Dark Knight Rises news! I think I get the title now...

Just as it did four years ago, Warner Bros has debuted the first official look of the primary Batman villain on the cover of Empire.  I won't comment too much on the images, and I couldn't give too craps about what that thing Batman is holding happens to be (we'll know when we know).  But the article does contain one huge plot reveal, from Mr. Nolan himself ironically.

"It's really all about finishing Batman and Bruce Wayne's story. We left him in a very precarious place. Perhaps surprisingly for some people, our story picks up quite a bit later, eight years after The Dark Knight. So he's an older Bruce Wayne; he's not in a great state."

Male-driven dramas are Oscar-bait, female-driven dramas are Lifetime movies? Are male-driven melodramas given more weight than female-driven ones?

I'd like to toss out a random thought for discussion... I really liked The Descendants.  It's a very good drama with fine performances all-around.  It arguably deserves its status as an Oscar front-runner.  But let's discuss something for a moment.  If the film revolved around an aging woman who grapples with bonding with her daughters after her unfaithful husband goes into a coma, would we still be talking about its likely Oscar victories? Would it be considered an automatic Oscar contender or would it have to fight perceptions that it was a glorified Lifetime movie?  If the film centered not around George Clooney's husband/father, but rather Shailene Woodley's suffering older daughter, would the film still be considered 'prestigious' enough to be crowned an Oscar contender before most critics/press even saw it?

Amanda Seyfried's Gone gets a (possibly) uber-spoilerific trailer.

This looks pretty run-of-the-mill, although it's nice to see Seyfried back to doing star vehicles instead of being Justin Timberlake's hostage/love interest.  But if you watch this trailer, you might want to stop right before the 2:13 mark, or right after the title flashes.  The last ten seconds contain a button, which has apparently has Seyfried in a phone conversation with the killer in question.  Fair enough, except I think I recognize said murderer's voice.  While the murderer's identity shouldn't be too hard to figure as I'm pretty sure it follows two of the rules for deducing such a thing (which name actor is playing a seemingly useless character and which said actor gets unusually high billing for playing such a useless character).  Still, if I'm correct, it's awfully dirty pool for  Summit Entertainment to blatantly give away the game as such.  Anyway, the film looks generic if intriguing, Seyfried looks gorgeous per-usual, and it looks like serviceable junk to keep us entertained between the Oscars and the summer movie season.  But if you must watch, don't watch the whole thing.

Scott Mendelson   

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend Box Office (11/20/11): Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn scores 5th-biggest debut, while Happy Feet Two fails and Descendants scores in limited debut.

It is weird that I have so little to offer on a weekend when a film earned the fifth-biggest debut in US history, as well as the tenth-biggest worldwide bow.  But the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I (essay) had an opening weekend that is so perfectly in line with the franchise, that it is not only unexpected, but leaves us with little doubt in regards to how the film will fare in the long haul.  For the record, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I (trailer and teaser) opened with $139.5 million this weekend, $30 million of which came purely on Thursday midnight showings.  That's just shy of the $142 million debut of Twilight Saga: New Moon on this same weekend two years ago.  With a 1.93x weekend multiplier film was slightly more front-loaded than the first sequel (they both had $72 million opening Fridays), but less so than the original Twilight.  The original, with its $35 million opening day and $69 million opening weekend, opened with a 1.97x weekend multiplier this weekend three years ago).  The third film, Eclipse, opened on a Wednesday over the Independence Day holiday of 2010, which makes comparisons difficult.  The film played 80% female, 60% over-21, and earned a B+ from Cinemascore.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Expendables 2 gets the most Expendables 2-ish poster possible.

Aside from the fact that a few of the top-billed stars aren't on the poster (where's Jet Li?), this looks like the best possible poster you could craft for The Expendables 2.  I expect we'll see a teaser before the year is out, perhaps attached to Sherlock Holmes 2 or Mission: Impossible IV.  It's a shame that Lionsgate didn't have the sense of humor to attach it to Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I, but oh well.  Thanks to JoBlo for the poster.

Scott Mendelson

Midnight Box Office (11/18/11): Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I scores another $30 million at 12:01am. Opening weekend between $118 million and $163 million.

Yup, Team Bella/Edward/Jacob did it again, as the fourth Twilight picture scored another massive midnight gross, which should lead the way to another massive single-day and a massive and hilariously front-loaded opening weekend.  Breaking Dawn part I earned $30.25 million at midnight, putting it just above the $30 million earned at 12:01am by Twilight Saga: Eclipse and comfortably ahead of the $26 million earned by Twilight Saga: New Moon.  The second film's numbers are better comparison points, since the first sequel opened on the exact same weekend two years ago (and the third film opened on a Wednesday, which negates any reasonable comparison).  This is also the weekend where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I earned $24 million in 12:01am showings last year, which amounted to a $62 million opening day and a $125 million weekend.  The Harry Potter and Twilight films have both the biggest midnight grosses around and the most heavily-front-loaded opening weekends in the business.  As you no doubt recall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II scored an eye-popping $43 million in midnight shows just four months ago, which led to a $92 million opening day and a $169 million opening weekend (records, all three).  Long story short, here's how Breaking Dawn part I will measure up if its opening weekend trajectory follows its most obvious comparisons...  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II (3.9x its midnight number) - $118 million, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I (5.2x  its midnight number) - $157 million, Twilight Saga: New Moon (5.4x  its midnight number) - $163 million.  So there you have it, the 3-day opening weekend record is not in any plausible danger, but The Dark Knight may find itself as merely the third-biggest debut by Sunday evening.  Most impressively, Breaking Dawn part I is achieving these massive grosses without any IMAX or 3D price-bump.  Let's split the difference between $119 million and $165 million and call a $140 million opening weekend for Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I.  We'll know more when the Friday numbers roll in, although I will likely be otherwise occupied (family birthday party).

Scott Mendelson

Review: The Muppets (2011) is a touching and hilarious tribute to the iconic characters, plus a commentary on the pros and cons of nostalgia.

The Muppets
105 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

There is a part of me that doesn't want The Muppets to be a box office smash.  It's a wonderful film, one of the very best movies of the year, in fact. But there is a part of me that doesn't want this to be the opening chapter in another deluge of new Muppet movies, television shows, and the like. The film, as it stands, works fine as both a standalone film and an introduction to the world created by Jim Henson some forty years ago.  But it also has an unexpected power as something else: a farewell of sorts.  It is about the heartache of losing touch with old friends and not getting that last chance to say goodbye.  It is about, among other things, how we, as a society, seek a kind of closure for certain chapters in our lives, and can sometimes feel incomplete if we don't get it.  Maybe this new film will be a gateway drug to a whole new generation of kids, and I cannot begrudge them the pleasures that Kermit and his friends have given me.  But this new entry has our felt friends emerging out of exile and in arguably peak form, and it makes a strong argument for ending on top.  Come what may, The Muppets, if need be, exists as a triumphant last hurrah and/or fitting finale to a entertainment property that never really got its 'one last show'.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Too grownup for grownup movies? Or why the movie I'm most looking forward to this Oscar season is Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

This was a bit more free association than I intended.  Do forgive me...

As of this writing, I have not yet seen Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar.  I had some free time on Monday and, faced with two new releases that were both playing around the same time, I chose Immortals in 2D.  I actually had a few opportunities to see the Leonardo DiCaprio picture prior to release, but passed each time.  Like a lot of would-be Oscar contenders that drop during this time of the year, the poorly reviewed 'good for you' picture felt less like nutritious entertainment and more like homework. The conventional wisdom is that the problem with mainstream Hollywood is that it fashions its films for the tastes of fourteen-year old boys, while adult films for adult film-goers are relegated to the art-house if they are released at all.  But my situation is a little different.  I find that as I get older I am less and less enticed by the so-called grownup films.  Faced with a choice between seeing the newest Oscar-bait film immediately upon release (or at a press screening downtown at 'pain-in-the-ass-traffic o'clock') or checking out something vaguely more escapist, the choice is harder and harder.  I used to relish the opportunity to see the so-called 'grown up movies' as soon as possible.  Now, due to obvious demands on my time, the insane time-crunch that is the year-end release schedule, and the glut of often mediocre art-house product (Gee, I sure hope that sensitive, quirky, and somewhat handsome young man overcomes his problems with the help of an out-of-his-league hottie who exists purely to make him enjoy life again), it sometimes seems more like a burden.

Does the Twilight Saga endorse its own story?

I did not attend last night's Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part I screening.  I was invited, but since I'm married with two kids, I try to reserve press screenings for the important stuff, like tonight's screening of The Muppets and the deluge of Oscar-bait movies I actually want to see (Young Adult next week, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy the week after).  So while I don't loathe the series like a lot of other people do, I'd still rather catch the latest entry on my own time, instead of plunging into rush hour traffic just 36 hours or so prior to opening morning.  So while other critics (mostly the 'geek crowd' oddly enough) are openly discussing the overt weirdness that is present both in the original Breaking Dawn book and the 'first part' of its film adaptation, the above graduation speech always stuck out for me.  The reason is simple: in about 75 seconds, Ana Kendrick seemingly condemns the entire narrative arc of Bella Swan.  Marrying the first serious boyfriend you get right out of high school?  "Bad".  Not going to college?  "Bad".  Not making any effort while you're young to see the world and/or have various adventures before settling down?  "Bad."  I've had conversations with a friend of mine about whether or not Stephenie Meyer actually endorses the narrative arc that Bella Swan undergoes during the four-novel series, as well as whether or not she wanted Edward Cullen and Bella to end up together at the end at all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Oscar hopes aside, The Descendants (2011) is one of the year's best films.

The Descendants
115 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

The problem with the movies that are released this time of year is that they are examined in terms of their Oscar potential first and their quality as a film second.  Thus, upon viewing, we often have to remind ourselves to actually watch and critique the movie we are watching, rather than mentally dissecting whether or not it has the 'right stuff' to take home Oscar gold.  I don't know how well Alexander Payne's The Descendants is going to fare in the various year-end awards races.  It is currently among the front-runners, but as Heath Ledger and David Fincher could tell you, it's all about who is in the lead when the race stops.  But putting that aside, let me state that The Descendants actually deserves to be discussed as a front runner.  Not because of its pedigree, its release date, or its Oscar-friendly narrative, but because it is indeed one of the best films of 2011.

Titanic 3D gets a somewhat obnoxious trailer.

I loved Titanic in 1997. I still think the film is an unqualified masterpiece. I can and will defend its artistic reputation any chance I get. But this trailer, with its obnoxious onscreen text ("Take the Journey! Fall In Love! Drown and/or Freeze to Death in the Icy Waters!") and its use of the Celine Deon song over the painfully moving James Horner score, actually makes me not want to revisit the movie.  Oh well.

Scott Mendelson

Pixar's Brave gets a gorgeous trailer, which tells a surprisingly conventional story.

Come what may, Pixar has specialized in relatively unimpressive trailers that earn kudos for not giving away the whole movie.  So when I tell you that I wasn't dazzled by this introductory teaser, there is little cause for alarm.  What's most interesting is that the film is the first case of Pixar telling a straight-up Campellian 'Hero's Journey' tale, as opposed to their standard "Man Comes to Terms With Death/What He Cannot Change" fables that gave us Finding NemoWall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3.  The animation is striking, and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio is welcome.  The Scottish setting, the young child who wants to break away from tradition, and Billy Connelly's distinctive brogue makes it feel a bit similar to How To Train Your Dragon (Craig Ferguson turns up here too) albeit with a gender-switch.  The former was about a young man who didn't want to fight, while this one has a young woman who wants to be a warrior.  Anyway, so far, this one looks pretty solid, even if the trailer highlights bawdy humor over red-blooded adventure, and Pixar has certainly earned our trust over the years.  Brave opens June 22nd, 2012.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trailer: Tarsem's Snow White revamp, Mirror Mirror, looks like a terrible remake of Ella Enchanted, as Julia Roberts invokes The Cat in the Hat.

Wow... just wow.  This looks shockingly bad, a sophomoric, obnoxious, and outright painful.  The humor seems to be on the level of Happily N'Ever After, and any kind of would-be 'fairy tale reversal' shtick just points out that Ella Enchanted did it first, did it smarter and wittier, and did it without having to piggy-back on a famous property.  Julia Roberts looks so strained and campy that she evokes an awkward kind of sympathy with her ghastly 'comic moments' and the constant pokes at her age (most of her bits revolve around how apparently old and ugly she is).  Of course Lily Collins looks gorgeous and fetching, and Arnie Hammer looks blandly-dashing, but the whole tone reeks of Mike Meyer's The Cat in the Hat.  This one drops on March 16th, 2012.  As always, we'll see, but unless this is some kind of bait-and-switch, um... yeah.

Scott Mendelson  

Review: Immortals (2011) shares the politics of 300, the plot of Clash of the Titans, and negates its worth as 3D spectacle by looking glorious in 2D.

110 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

While Immortals has been advertised as a knock-off of 300, it's actually pretty much a variation on Clash of the Titans through-and-through.  In fact, the only real similarity it shares with Zack Snyder's 2007 blockbuster is its (unintentional?) racism and its rather explicit right-wing politics.  Like 300, the film involves a very white guy (Henry Cavill, who will indeed make a fine Clark Kent in two years) who does battle with another white guy (Mickey Rourke, in arguably better form than he's been in anything since The Wrestler) who is pissed off at the Greek gods because his wife and child slowly died of some unnamed illness.  Fair enough, but at the end of the movie (yes, there will be spoilers, even generic ones...) we get a big (and very impressive) battle between the Greek gods and the evil Titans.  The Greek gods are dressed in gold armor and are as Anglo-Saxon as can be (played by Luke Evans and Isabel Lucas, among others) while the Titans are well, savage humanoid monsters with really dark skin.  So we get a climactic battle between angelic white people and demonic black men.  Subtle...

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Hunger Games trailer is a strong example of confident marketing, and a textbook-study on how to sell the goods without spoiling the whole movie.

This is exactly how to cut a full-length trailer.  You establish the core plot of the story, you establish the main character and why we should be invested in their fate, you offer a few details of the mythology, and then you fade to black.  Obviously,  having not read the books, I can't say for certain, but this 2.5 minute trailer seems entirely made up of first and second act material (if not even less than that, depending on when the main competition begins).  And while there has been fun 'fear' from fans of the series that it would be sold as a Twilight clone, this Lionsgate trailer is explicitly about the circumstances in which Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself hunting other kids in the woods.  Yes we get a few dialogue patches from one would-be male love interest (at this point purely platonic) and a long close-up of the other, but whatever romantic inclinations exist in the narrative is being saved for the next trailer.  What you do get is a sense of scale and some truly gorgeous 2.35:1 cinematography, a realistic and atmospheric dystopian future that feels right at home in classic 1970s sci-fi parables , brief but important appearances by Elizabeth Banks and Donald Sutherland, and a showing of pure confidence in both the product being sold and the manner in which to sell it.  This one drops on March 23rd, 2012.  As always we'll see, but I'm highly impressed.

Scott Mendelson   

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Box Office (11/13/11): Immortals surprises with strong #1 debut, Jack and Jill underperforms (for Adam Sandler), Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar opens well.

In what counts as a somewhat pleasant surprise, Reletivity's Immortals topped the box office this weekend with a solid $32 million debut.  Tarsam's highly stylized Greek hack-and-slash action film was sold as a glorified rip-off of 300, which opened with $70 million back in March 2007.  If it needs to be said (because others are indeed whining), expecting Immortals to open as well as the lightening-in-a-bottle 300 (or even Clash of the Titans) makes about as much sense as expecting Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief to open as well as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  The budget for this one was allegedly just $75 million, and much of that was apparently supplemented by foreign pre-sales.  The film also earned another $36 million overseas, giving it a near-$70 million worldwide debut.  Relativity took a major chance on the picture, fully financing it themselves and selling the heck out of it for at least the last six months.  Immortals received a B from Cinemascore and was heavily front-loaded, earning $15 million on Friday night alone for a pretty poor 2.1x weekend multiplier.  So while the domestic run may be brief, the new distributor Relativity needed to prove that they could open an expensive movie to quasi-blockbuster numbers (it's already their second-biggest grossing movie, behind the $79 million haul of Limitless).  On that scale, mission: accomplished.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: London Boulevard (2011) a generic hodgepodge of British gangster cliches.

London Boulevard
103 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

I could spend 800 words explaining why William Mohanan's London Boulevard is a warmed-over quasi-parody of the British gangster film. I could whine that Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley are misused and wasted, with only David Thewliss having anything fun to do.  I could elaborate on how the one interesting story component (an ex-con protecting a movie star from relentless paparazzi) is more-or-less ignored after the first act.  But instead I'll just save my time and yours and embed this wonderful Saturday Night Live parody from last February.  It pretty much sums up my problems with this underwhelming genre exercise.  But at least I didn't need subtitles to appreciate its mediocrity.

grade: D

Scott Mendelson

Snow White and the Huntsman gets a trailer and posters.

I know Tilda Swinton already played 'The White Witch' in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but Charlize Theron is seemingly doing a vocal Swinton impression anyway.  The rest of this looks pretty boiler-plate.  For what it's worth, Theron looks to be having a grand old time.  It's worth noting that while the teaser gives us token shots of Kristen Stewart wearing armor and engaging in battle, the 112-second clip makes sure to establish Chris Hemsworth's warrior huntsman as the alpha-figure of the film.  Regardless, this is a rather dull and uninspired clip, with only the sheer scale of the battle scenes and the whole 'knights shatter like glass upon being struck' trick that may be about winning the film a PG rating.  Anyway, this one comes out from Universal on June 1st, 2012.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson 

Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo gets a cute and clever poster and a PG rating.

Please don't stink.  Please be better than Elizabethtown.  I don't expect anything approaching Almost Famous, but please be at least as good as Vanilla Sky. By the way, somewhat unexpectedly, this one just got a PG for 'language and some thematic elements'.  As I wrote three years ago, it's pretty rare for a live-action film to get a PG in this day-and-age, and it's clear that Fox is going after the 'bring the whole family' crowd that made Marley and Me such a smash in Christmas 2008.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Melancholia (2011) engages primarily in its opening and closing passages.

135 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

The opening and closing reels of Lars von Trier's latest opus are so engaging, imaginative and potent that it seems almost a shame to relate that the middle 100 minutes don't amount to all that much.  Like 2001: A Space Odyssey (a better film, although still not among my favorite Kubrick pictures) the film makes its point pretty pointedly during its jaw-dropping opening and closing moments, but strains viewer patience during the body of the film itself.  It is splendidly acted and has a certain emotional weight that will stay with you past the credits.  Whether it's worth your time to see what works about this passionate tone poem is arguable.  But one cannot deny that it is still, warts and all, a singular work of art.

The Darkest Hour gets a great poster, will likely flop anyway.

I still think it's nuts for Summit Entertainment to be releasing this one during the flood of Christmas weekend releases.  It's all-but sure to be lost in the crowd between The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, We Bought a Zoo, Warhorse, and Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (I still think at least one of those should have moved the completely empty December 2nd date).  But credit where credit is due, this is a wonderfully evocative and fun poster.  Does anyone have this invisible aliens invasion flick at the top of their Christmas must-see list?

Scott Mendelson

That's a first! MPAA awards a PG-13 to The Dark Knight Rises IMAX prologue.

Yes, indeed, it appears that not only will you be seeing that 6-8 minute IMAX preview of The Dark Knight Rises attached to IMAX prints of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (which has just been rated PG-13 for 'sequences of intense action and violence') but that extended scene has actually gotten its very own MPAA rating.  So the IMAX preview for The Dark Knight Rises has been rated PG-13 for 'some violence'.  To my knowledge, this is the first time a preview of a movie, even an extended scene, has received its own MPAA rating classification.  But yeah, that prologue will be appropriate for audiences thirteen years old and up.  I don't have anything to share, I just thought it was funny and The Dark Knight Rises generally works well as page-view bait anyway.  This post has been rated AS - Arbitrary and Shameless.

Scott Mendelson

Because popularity doesn't negate quality - Warner Bros goes the distance for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II Oscar love.

Warner Bros. is going full-force with their Oscar hopes for the final Harry Potter film, as evidenced by the above trailer, a 44-page booklet included with this week's Hollywood Reporter, and their official website, which features a list of 'for your consideration' categories and samples of Alexandre Desplat's moody score.  I'm actually torn on this one, as while I certainly believe that the series overall deserves some kind of Oscar acknowledgement for its accomplishments, the eighth film in the series is not anywhere near my favorite of the series.  Having said that, had the Academy kept the ten-nominee rule, the film would have been all-but guaranteed a Best Picture nomination.  And I'm convinced that the change to however its going to work this year was a specific change from elitist Academy members in order to prevent 'popular entertainments' such as this one, an overwhelming majority of positive reviews aside, from getting Oscar love.  So it does indeed look like we'll have another batch of Best Picture contenders that are merely 'appropriate' Oscar bait, regardless of how audiences and critics actually felt about them (The Reader and Revolutionary Road both have lower 'Tomato Meter' scores than Tower Heist and Snakes on a Plane).  If only for that absurd ideology ("Eeek!  People saw and liked it... it's not worthy!"), I kinda hope that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II sneaks into the final 5-10 anyway.

Scott Mendelson 

Scott Mendelson returns to podcasting.

For those interested, here is a 90-minute podcast which I participated in on Sunday night with three other film critics (Aaron Neuwirth, Abraham Moua, and Matt Levin).  The primary topics are A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas and Tower Heist, with any number of random digressions tossed in.  Hope you enjoy it, I had a good time and I will, barring unforeseen variables, likely be returning to their show on December 18th to discuss Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts on the Brett Ratner mess: When explicit slurs become part of everyday language and how to deal with their casual and out-of-context use.

I don't think Brett Ratner is a homophobe, at least not from the current evidence.  He may be an ignorant or thoughtless person, but I no more think he is a homophobe for using the word 'faggot' then I do believe that any of you are homophobes for using the word 'sissy'.  Nor do I believe that most of you hold any prejudicial inclinations towards gypsies even if you occasionally use the word 'gyp' (or 'gypped') in everyday conversation.  There are words that have highly prejudicial origins that have just happened to become commonplace expressions in the English language.  Their original meanings have been lost to time, and they have been accepted as part of normal (if crude) conversation.  For much of my lifetime (and I presume much longer than that), the term 'fag' or 'faggot' had a meaning completely separate from its explicit use as an anti-gay slur.  It basically had a secondary meaning as a derogatory term that, while perhaps related to certain stereotypes about homosexuals (weak, uncool, etc), was not intended as an explicit put-down of homosexuals.  Point being, you can call someone or something a 'fag' without referring to homosexuality.  You probably shouldn't, as doing so shows either ignorance of the word's origins or an indifference to its real meaning, but you can.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Box Office (11/06/11): Puss in Boots tops again with record hold, while Tower Heist and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas slightly underperform.

 Well it looks like the answer to last weekend's big question was "B".  Dreamworks did indeed trade one boffo opening weekend for two rock-solid weekends after all.  Last weekend, after being moved onto Halloween weekend at the last minute, Puss In Boots (review and trailer) debuted with a mediocre (for Dreamworks Animation) $34 million.  I speculated that perhaps Dreamworks simply was hoping to have an extra weekend before facing off against Happy Feet 2 (November 18th) and were hoping to use positive word of mouth to fuel a strong hold this weekend as well.  Puss In Boots topped the box office again, with another $33 million.  That's a drop of 3% from last weekend.  The Shrek spin-off pulled in the smallest second weekend drop for a Dreamworks animated film of all-time, behind only the 0.2% rise of the first Shrek, which had the Memorial Day weekend holiday behind it.  In fact, give-or-take how the final numbers measure up to the 3.6% drop of the second weekend of The Sixth Sense, and the 2.8% increase for My Dog Skip (coming off just a $5 million debut , Puss In Boots may have snagged the record for the smallest second-weekend drop for a non-Holiday weekend.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Classic Marketing: How the trailer for Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible invented the modern movie tease, for better or worse.

If you were old enough (or young enough) to care back in February or March 1996, you probably thought this was the greatest trailer you had ever seen.  And in a certain sense, you were right.  For better or worse, this trailer for Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible basically redefined the modern movie trailer.  While Batman (1989) was the first major trailer to have no narration or voice over of any kind, the M:I trailer played a different game.  It was arguably the first trailer to move so quickly that you could barely digest the images.  It had plenty of dialogue and plot teases, most of it supplied by an gloriously cryptic Henry Czerny, but the would-be exposition vague enough to not qualify as a spoiler.  On the other hand, it has explicit misdirection, falsely setting up Emmanuelle Béart as a damsel-in-distress while using a sex scene between her and Tom Cruise that wasn't even in the final cut of the film.  But its core contribution to modern film-trailer construction was the sheer speed and intensity of its action montage.  Obviously set to Lalo Schifrin's classic theme (well, maybe not so obviously...), the final rip-roaring 90 seconds arguably redefined how high-energy a trailer could be.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review: Tower Heist (2011) is a solid, low-key comedic caper that respects its own story and doesn't sacrifice its own reality for laughs.

Tower Heist
110 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Brett Ratner's Tower Heist is an unassuming caper film that works because it doesn't try to force laughs or excitement down our throats.  The film is arguably more of a light drama than a pure comedy, and its laughs never come at the expense of the inherent seriousness of the situation.  Director Ratner and writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson take the story that they have created as seriously as they can, while respecting the intelligence and viewpoints of all the major characters.  It is not a great film, but it occasionally flirts with being a great movie.  At its core, Tower Heist is basically as good as every major studio concoction should be as a matter of principle.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Denzel Washington is the last old-fashioned movie star...

It is no secret that I often whine about the lack of mid-budget, star-driven, adult-skewing thrillers in this fantasy-tent pole era.  And while there has certainly been a slight resurgence in the form over the last year, it still remains a fact that most of the stars of today and yesterday (or their respective agents) would rather hitch their tent to an established franchise rather than try their hand at the star vehicle.  In a time when Tom  Hanks tried (needlessly I'd argue) to cling to relevancy by stepping into the Dan Brown universe and where even Will Smith was so traumatized by the 'failure' of Seven Pounds that he went speeding back to Men in Black (and may end up doing another Independence Day), Denzel Washington is arguably the last of a dying breed.  He is a true movie star in the purest sense of the term and a reminder of the kind of movies, like Safe House (trailer) that were once made by such stars when the term had any real value.

Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House gets a terrific trailer.

If you've read me for any amount of time, you'd heard me complain the lack of mid-budget star-driven thrillers.  As such, you can imagine that this thing looks right up my alley.  Denzel Washington is playing a villain for the first time since American Gangster four years ago this week, and he looks refreshingly low-key this time around and a solid foil for Ryan Reynolds.  The supporting cast is sharp (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Cunningham, Sam Shepard, Robert Patrick, and Tim McGraw) and the trailer effectively uses Jay-Z's "No Church in the Wild" for a solid mix of tension and emotional investment.  A word of warning, the trailer may end up being a bit spoilery, as it heavily hints as a possible antagonist while clearly showing stuff that likely doesn't happen until the third act.  This Universal release drops February 10th, 2012 and it's instantly near the top of my 'must-see' list in the new year.

Scott Mendelson  

Review: A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D (2011) again proves that the first film's brilliance was a fluke.

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3D
90 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is arguably the best comedy of the prior decade.  It's laugh-out-loud funny, but also filled with intelligent characters engaging in outlandish, but almost-plausible adventures in search of a most simple pleasure (a hamburger).  It was crude, but not stupid about its raunch, and it created a wonderful 'this is America' tapestry that helped make it one of the finest films about race/ethnicity relations in modern cinema. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is every bit as lousy as most of us expected the first film to be.  It's aimless, painfully unfunny, openly stupid, and trading in the sort of stock storytelling conventions ("Oh, that girl I dated for a few months in college is THE ONE who I must win back!") that the original avoided.  More importantly, it's outright immoral in how it claims political topicality but sells the three biggest post-9/11 lies around (there are no innocent men in Gitmo, the post 9/11 abuses are the result of a few bad apples, and George W. Bush is really just 'one of us').  For better or worse, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas isn't as offensive as the first sequel, but it's still a shockingly lazy, uninspired affair.  It feels cheap and constrained, with only a handful of laughs and a narrative that sees fit to mostly replicate jokes from the first film.  It's not as aggressively bad as the first sequel, but mere mediocrity is not something to aspire to.


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