Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Film: The Year's "Worst" Films.

Almost to the end, folks.  But before we finally recap the best (or, err, my favorites) of 2012, let's take a pit stop to discuss what are arguably the worst films of 2012.  Now as always, I can't presume that I've seen every probable terrible movie out there (I generally avoid Adam Sandler comedies and didn't catch Parental Guidance in time), but I tried to highlight films that were both very bad and whose respective failures meant something more than just their artistic inadequacy.  As always, the films below are in alphabetical order.  So, without further ado, let's dive in!

Alex Cross:
To William Hurt in A History of Violence, "How to do you f*** that up?!"  You have a long-running detective series filled with larger-than-life villains and often insanely over-the-top violence.  You have Tyler Perry, if perhaps cast against type than at least hungry to prove that he can do something different.  You have Matthew Fox theoretically willing to chew up every bit of available scenery.  And you have audiences primed for a kind of old-school adult-skewing genre picture that the previous two Morgan Freeman-starring Alex Cross films (Kiss the Girls and Along Came A Spider) represented back in the 1990s.  How in the world do you make this film this incredibly boring?  First of all, you take an explicitly R-rated story and neuter it into a still-inappropriate PG-13.  Then you pile on generic cliche on top of generic cliche.  Then you instruct every actor other than Fox to be as lifeless as possible.  Finally, you never decide to make a down-to-Earth crime thriller or a would-be superhero/super villain story.  The end result is a painfully dull would-be thriller that can't hold a candle to the most average episode of Criminal Minds.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Weekend Box Office (12/30/12): Les Miserables and Django Unchained neck and neck while The Hobbit tops again.

It's frightening sometimes how accurate the math can be.  Before this year, there were only a handful of movies that have opened on a Christmas day that happened to land on a Tuesday over the last decade (Ali and Kate and Leopold in 2001, Alien vs. Predator: Requim, The Great Debaters, and The Waterhorse).  Ali, AvP2, and the Denzel Washington drama The Great Debaters were pretty front loaded ($10m/$34m and $9.5m/$26m, and $3.5m/$13m respectively) while the smaller films (Kate and Leopold and The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep) had smaller opening Christmas days but longer legs over the six days ($2.5m/$17m and $2.3m/$16.7m).  I use these prior examples because the three major wide releases this weekend pretty much matched up those patterns to a tee.  So when I tell you that Les Miserables opened on Christmas Day to $18 million but did "just" $28 million for the weekend and "only" $66 million for the six-day holiday (a 3.67x weekend multiplier), that doesn't mean anything other than it played like a normal high-profile film that happened to have opened on Tuesday the 25th.  Or that Django Unchained pulled in $64 million off a $15 million Christmas Tuesday opening, that means that it's actually the biggest legs of any would-be blockbuster to open on this specific Tuesday the 25th date (4.2x weekend multiplier).


Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 in Film: The Runner-Ups.

As we continue recapping the movies that arguably defined 2012, we move on to what I like to call 'The Runner-Ups'.  These films are all very good if not great.  Either they didn't quite make my 'favorite of the year' list or they aren't the kind of thing that belongs on a traditional best-of-year list (you'll see which ones I'm referring to below).  Anyway, consider this a 'great films that aren't among the very best but I darn-well wanted to highlight them' list.  As always, the films below are in alphabetical order.  Without further ado...

Argo (review):
In a year where old-school big-studio genre films for adults solidified their comeback, this Ben Affleck political period piece is the defining example of everything going right.  It cost just $45 million, so it didn't need to be a massive hit to make a profit, but a massive hit it was.  With around $105 million at the domestic till so far, it's among the year's top Oscar contenders, and I still have an inkling that Ben Affleck is going to walk away with the Best Director statue this year (the somewhat false 'comeback kid' narrative is too good to resist).  Argo, concerning a true story of the CIA's attempts to rescue six Americans trapped in Iran during the embassy hostage crisis of 1979, is a pretty terrific film through-and-through.  The only reason it doesn't rank higher is that it's really not about anything other than itself.  It's a caper film, a procedural, but with no attempts at any additional relevancy.  That's not a bad thing per-se, but it arguably prevents the film from being anything other than a terrific piece of old-school moviemaking.  That's not exactly an insult, as it's still a top-notch piece of meat-and-potatoes entertainment.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 in Film: The Overrated...

I wrestled with even doing an 'overrated' list this year.  First of all, the very idea of such a list is to merely tell other critics and/or the masses that they are dead-wrong for liking something, which I'd argue is very different from telling someone they're wrong for disliking something.  Second of all, the Internet has become such a vast land of film criticism that few films completely escape the wrath of critical scrutiny even if the popular consensus happens to lean in the "wrong" direction.  Nonetheless, in the end I enjoy writing about the year in film, so far be it for me to cheat myself out of some arbitrary concern for maintaining the proverbial higher ground.  So, in alphabetical order as always, let's dive right in...

Brave (review/guest essay):
Had this not been Pixar's first animated feature with a female lead, had this not been marketed within the context that Princess Merida was a kind of sword-wielding/bow-clutching warrior, the the film would have been seen for what it is: a deeply problematic character drama that ignores the icky realities at the center of its tale in order to tell an audience-reassuring mother/daughter story.  The film basically tells the same character arc as The Little Mermaid but was declared a feminist milestone because the female lead A) carried a weapon and B) didn't want to get married.  But good intentions cannot get past a story line that treats mother and daughter as equally culpable even when one party is advocating forced marriage.  Make no mistake, say what you will about 'customs of the time' or 'arranged marriage versus forced marriage', the film tells a story of a child who doesn't want to get married to (and yes, have sex with) a man she doesn't know and treats it like a minor inconvenience.  There is a clear right and wrong here, but the film absolves the father of any responsibility while basically stating that the mother (who again, wants her daughter to have sex against her will) kinda-sorta has a point and that the daughter really needs to have empathy for her dear-old mum.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in Film: The Underrated and/or Unfairly Scorned...

Now we continue our 'the films of 2012' lists with another favorite, the Underrated!  And as always, this list won't just be good films that were labeled as 'bad', but also mediocre films that got unfairly pounded, or genuinely bad films that nonetheless deserved credit for one element or another.  If I do decide to compile an overrated list (still not sure, honestly), there is a good chance that many of the films on that list will still be better than many on this list, but I hope dear readers can understand the potential contradiction.  All of the films below are either worth seeing, either because they are in fact good or because they are bad but containing elements of note or are bad in interesting and/or entertaining ways. As always, the following are in alphabetical order.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Box Office: Les Miserables and Django Unchained blast off, but how frontloaded will they be?

The box office for Christmas day is huge (Les Miserables $18 million, Django Unchained $15 million, The Hobbit $11 million), but the best day may be behind them. The last time Christmas fell on a Tuesday, the major releases (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Sweeney Todd) opened the Friday before while leaving Christmas day for relative lightweights like Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem and The Great Debaters. I don't recall any recent times when a major film opened on Christmas Day which was a Tuesday (when Christmas fell on a Tuesday in 2007, nothing opened that day) since the severely front-loaded Ali back in 2001.  Looking over those two respective weekends, the pattern is clear.  Even with six days to play with, all three of the above films saw massive front-loading, doing anywhere between 38% (Alien v. Predator 2) and 28% (Ali and The Great Debaters) of their business on Christmas day.  So for the respective debuts of Les Miserables, Django Unchained, and Parental Guidance (which earned $6.5 million), the bad news is that it's probable that none of these films will make more than 3.5x their Christmas number by Sunday, to the extent that it's "bad news".  The outlier among Tuesday Christmas openings is the Meg Ryan/Hugh Jackman rom-com Kate and Leopold, which did 6.8x its $2.5 million Christmas debut by the 30th of December for a $17 million long weekend (it did 15% on Christmas day).  A relative lightweight like Parental Guidance is likely to benefit more than the far-more anticipated (read - front-loaded)  major openers.  So doing the math, Les Miserables and Django Unchained is looking at a six-day opening of $48 million-$63 million and $41 million and $53 million.  Parental Guidance is much harder to peg and could land somewhere between $20 million and $40 million, with obviously a lot of wiggle room in between.

Scott Mendelson

2012 in Film: Good Films You Probably Missed in Theaters.

And so begins my annual 'films of 2012' list round-up, where I try to do more than merely compile the '10 best and 10 worst' of the year.  It's often just as much fun to talk about films somewhere in the middle, the underrated gems, the hidden gems, and the overrated would-be critical darlings.  This time I'm starting it off with a list of ten very good or great films that you probably didn't see.  This is often among my favorite lists to compile, as it allows me to shine a spotlight on films that perhaps didn't get the attention they deserved.  These are not "underrated" per say.  Most who did see them in fact enjoyed them, but the audience was too small in number for all of the films mentioned below.  As always, the following are in alphabetical order.  So, without further ado...

Detention:
Joseph Kahn's genre-twisting and post-modern horror freak-out had the bad luck to open in limited release on the same weekend as the wide release of another somewhat more mainstream self-aware horror exercise.  Of course, opening a youth-skewing genre film in limited release is pretty much box office death anyway, since those who might see it won't know to seek out an art-house and those who frequent art-houses aren't going to see a movie like Detention.  This future cult classic is a completely whacked-out little film, basically playing the conventions of horror films against the hyper-connected constant-communication age that is today's youth.  That's somewhat of a simplistic reading of this film, which blends 90s-era nostalgia with modern-day apathy in a way that comments on both, but I don't want to give away too much.  Let's just say the film goes in completely unexpected places in its final half and it's a hell of a ride.  Does it all work?  Not entirely, but the effort and ambition deserves notice and I can't wait to see what the director of the slightly underrated Torque does next.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Brandon Peters returns! Brandon Peters dissects the Dirty Harry franchise III: The Enforcer (1976).


The Enforcer
1976
Director:  James Fargo
Starring:  Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino, John Mitchum, DeVeren Bookwalter
Rated R

Dirty Harry falls prey to the curse of the third film in a franchise in The Enforcer.  Intended as the final chapter to the series, the film comes off cheap, amateur, outlandish and dated.  The film’s themes and plot’s believably may have sold better in 1976, but even then it had to have seemed a bit cartoonish and laughable.

Two fans of the first 2 films in the series took it upon themselves to write their own Dirty Harry film, Moving Target and by chance got it through to Clint Eastwood himself.  Eastwood thought it needed work, but took it to Warner Bros.  Warner had already begun work on a script for a third picture called Dirty Harry and More.  The villain plot of Moving Target was combined with the female partner angle of More and thus the film with the working title Dirty Harry III (later renamed The Enforcer, as Eastwood wanted each film to have a standalone name) was put into production.

Review: The Impossible (2012) is a disturbingly whitewashed, yet unquestionably effective disaster drama.

The Impossible
2012
105 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

As a technical exercise and an acting treat, The Impossible is pretty terrific. You want an authentic look at both the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and what it was probably like to actually survive such a thing?  Juan Antonio Bayona gives you exactly that.  The film is a peerless technical representation of mass disaster and a wonderfully acted melodrama.  The big question, and this may well be a deal-breaker for many, is whether one can justify the relative white-washing at play.  In short, while the lead family has been altered from Spanish to British (ie - somewhat Caucasian to lily-white Caucasian) the bigger and more disconcerting issue is how the indigenous locals have been turned into cameo players in their own story.  I don't know the details of what actually occurred at that exact location in Thailand back in 2004, nor do I know the exact demographic make-up of the affected population at this specific area (that specific area being a new tourist-friendly hotel frequented by traveling Europeans).  But it's hard to ignore not only the overt whiteness of the lead family but the film's continual cutting to white victims and white mourners over and over again, while the actual Thailand population is reduced to faceless corpses and proverbial caretakers.  That I can possibly look past this in good conscience is due to the sheer quality of the film itself, and my own ignorance of what is fiction versus non-fiction in this allegedly true story.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Weekend Box Office (12/23/12): Hobbit tops, Jack Reacher leads new releases in pre-Christmas pile-up.

 As I have been warning about for months, 10,000 releases all opened in this very weekend, with another 5,000 coming on Tuesday.  Let's just get right into it.  The top film of the weekend was once again The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (review), but it actually took a massive dive from last weekend.  The film earned $36 million, or down 59%.  It's tough to compare this to the previous Lord of the Rings films because they all opened on *this* weekend and had the unbeatable holiday cushion to keep them afloat.  Still, the film has $149 million in ten days, or well below the respective ten-day totals of The Two Towers ($168 million) and Return of the King ($190 million) and very much behind where they were at the end of their second weekends (IE - 12 days as they all opened on Wednesdays - $168 million and $200 million respectively).  It's not bombing, but it's already proving that it's not the box office second-coming ala Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.  Come what may, just with this year's Spider-Man reboot, what was once the biggest franchise of all is now just another large fish swimming in the blockbuster pond.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: Amour (2012) is an unflinching, devastating, but ultimately humane look at what awaits us all.

Amour
2012
127 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Michael Haneke's Amour is among the best films of the year, yet I'm not entirely sure who I would recommend it to.  It is fearlessly acted by its leads (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) and it is insightful in ways beyond the mere clinical exhibition of its subject matter. It is the best film about aging since Sarah Polley's Away From Her and even that Alzheimer's drama has a few moments of release that Haneke is unwilling to provide here.  But it is almost cruel in its depiction of the inevitable and for those not predisposed to seek out cinema for cinema's sake, it is a film that will bring only discomfort and pain.    It is arguably a masterwork, but it's not a movie I ever intend to watch again.  Whether you feel the need to watch it once, that's up to you.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Django Unchained (2012) entertains but is oddly generic and surprisingly conventional.

Django Unchained
2012
165 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Quentin Tarantino arguably made Django Unchained (teaser/trailer) because he wanted to try his hand at a Spaghetti Western, and that's basically what he has done.  Alas, the film is little more than a genre exercise, with little more than the obvious role reversals to justify its artistic existence.  That is is mostly entertaining and well-acted across the board goes without saying, but after the slyly subversive Inglorious Basterds, I frankly expect more from the filmmaker.  For a filmmaker known for narrative surprises and challenging the expectations of his audience, his newest entry is oddly conventional and almost timid in terms of how it approaches its subject matter.  Oh, it surely qualifies as another film focusing on revisionist revenge-fantasy history, as well as how we often use the cinematic lens to comprehend the least savory parts of our history, but as a stand-alone film it is lacking in substance.  It is a good movie, for sure, but it is quite frankly not a very good film.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Jack Reacher (2012) is a mostly satisfying old-school 90s-style genre-throwback.

Jack Reacher
2012
130 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie's Jack Reacher (trailer) is such an authentic bygone relic that I'm not entirely sure it takes place in the present day.  The picture looks, sounds, and feels like a relatively high-quality action thriller from the mid-1990's, which is mostly a compliment.  I could be mistaken, but I don't recall a single scene where a character uses the Internet and/or uses their cell phone for anything other than *talking* (the title character even uses a pay phone on several occasions).  But, thank the heavens, this is not some kind of 'let's make a 90's thriller' technical exercise, but it merely inhabits a mostly forgotten sub genre so successfully that it becomes something of a time capsule piece.  For those not interesting in examining it as a kind of relic, it fortunately also operates as a consistently entertaining and intelligent procedural.  It is strongly acted by all, with pulpy dialogue which I presume comes from the Lee Childs book (One Shot) from which it is based.  It has issues of length and tone, but it mostly entertains and is the rare would-be franchise starter for which I'd gladly see a sequel.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why Eddie Murphy should work with Tyler Perry...

Over the next week or so, I'll start posting my 'best/worst/etc. of 2012' lists. Among the films appearing on my 'underrated' list is Eddie Murphy's A Thousand Words. As longtime readers know, I often use my 'underrated' list to discuss films that, while objectively bad, didn't quite deserved the critical bruising they received and/or have nuggets of interest hidden inside the relative failure. But for now I'd like to merely acknowledge that Eddie Murphy is and arguably always has been a fine dramatic actor. Everyone was astounded by his nearly-Oscar winning turn in Bill Condon's Dreamgirls six years ago, and I'd argue that the key to said performance was his willingness to not go big during what could have been big dramatic moments (re - the scene where he drowns his artistic rejection by silently cutting a line of cocaine). Point being, it was less of a revelation than the mere fact that Murphy doesn't get to to do pure dramatic acting all that often (you could arguably count Life way back in 1999). As I wrote when A Thousand Words came out, Eddie Murphy has little desire to resurrect the Eddie Murphy of the early 1980s, and for arguably good reason (he's not exactly a kid anymore).  But if Mr. Murphy does want to change up his routine a bit, then the best avenue would be to try a few more pure dramas, or at least films which required dramatic performances.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness gets a very generic 'sequel' trailer.

Oddly enough, I did not see this trailer with my Friday afternoon showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Now that I've seen this trailer, what do I think?  Well, it looks pretty solid.  Yes it still feels like we're following the 'dark sequel' template, almost as if it's in a Mad Libs book.  Yes we get not one ponderous 'character arc in a monologue' speech but two ponderous 'character arc in a monologue' speeches.  I could say that once again the film is being marketed as "The Dark Knight but Star Trek-style", but I think that's almost too easy of a label.  But the film both looks pretty epic in scope *and* seems to involve quite a bit of, trekking across various stars.  They do seem to be teasing both references to Wrath of Khan and a major character death. 3.5 years ago, I pegged Chekov (Anton Yelchin) as the likely 'killed off halfway through character, and the fact that Yelchin's star hasn't exactly risen since only adds credence to said theory (that we see him in a red shirt when Pike is monologuing about Kirk's arrogance getting his friends killed doesn't help).  Anyway, this looks somewhat like generic sequel 101, but it still looks awfully entertaining.  As always, we'll see, in this case when Star Trek Into Darkness drops on May 17, 2013.  What are your thoughts on the above trailer?  Do share below...

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekend Box Office (12/16/12): The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens with an expected (and record) $84 million.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (review/teaser/trailer) basically opened like a Lord of the Rings film, give or take various variables.  Its $84.7 million estimated debut clobbered the December record, which is the $77 million earned by Avatar ($77 million, $80 million adjusted for inflation) and I Am Legend ($77.2 million, $89 million adjusted for inflation) in 2009 and 2007 respectively.  It soundly thumps the various other Lord of the Rings films, but this is where it gets tricky.  The prior Peter Jackson Middle Earth pictures opened on the weekend before Christmas week, which I've long argued is the best weekend of the year to open your picture.  So the fact that The Hobbit opened a week earlier makes this number a little more impressive, although the pre-Christmas weekend is more about legs than opening weekend.  On the other hand, the prior films all opened on a Wednesday, meaning that their would-be opening weekend was spread out of five days.  And of course, we have to take into account nine years of inflation and the whole 3D/IMAX price bump. So purely looking at inflation and comparing the Fri-Sun portion, this opening is about on par with The Two Towers ($62 million, but $84 million adjusted for inflation) and well ahead of Fellowship of the Ring's ($72 million, but adjusted-for-inflation $66 million) and King Kong ($50 million, and $62 million adjusted for inflation) for what that's worth. It's a bit behind the $72 million/$95 million opening of The Return of the King.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) bores and blunders at 48 frames-per-second.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
2012
165 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

I don't know if seeing The Hobbit part 1 of 3  (teaser/trailer) in the much-discussed 48 frames-per-second diminished the viewing experience, but it certainly didn't help.  Since it's the way Peter Jackson intended the film to be seen, it very much counts when judging the overall motion picture.  It's neither the great savior of cinema that the likes of Peter Jackson or James Cameron would have you believe, but nor is it a bell weather of the 'death of cinema'.  It is *different*, that's for sure.  You get an unparalleled clarity of vision and a certain lifelike presentation, akin to looking at a window at 'real life'.  The various CGI creatures look arguably more lifelike and the 3D is pretty flawless (although the screen looked even more vibrant when I took off the glasses, making me wish there had been a 48 fps 2D option).  But for that clarity you lose a certain cinematic grandeur.  Yes, certain introductory scenes look like live theater and yes there is an inconsistency of speed, as any number of moments will make one wonder if they're watching the film on 1.5x speed on their Playstation 3.  Moreover, even during the action sequences, a few of which are indeed still impressive, resemble not so much epic struggles but rather like watching a staged recreation akin to Civil War reenactors.  Especially during battle scenes set in open fields, it feels more like the finale of Role Models than a tent-pole action sequence.  Ironically, it's a technology that may actually be better suited to character dramas that big-scale action.  Your eyes do indeed adjust to the whole 'speed play' issue pretty quickly, but you never do become 'used' to the effect during the entire 165 minute running time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Midnight movie math: The Hobbit earns $13 million.

Initial reports show that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey earned $13 million from 3,100 screens at 12:01am last night, setting a record for December and surpassing the respective $8 million midnight gross earned by The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King way back in December 2003.  It opens wide on over 4,000 screens consisting of 2,000 different viewing options today.  Of course, said figure was nine years ago and without the 3D/IMAX ticket-price bump, but that's for another day.  What this looks like for the weekend is pretty simple.  The "prequel" is arguably heavily anticipated by hardcore-but less anticipated by the general moviegoer.  I was at the midnight showings for The Two Towers and Return of the King, but nine years later, I'm merely catching an after-work screening with a friend, as much to see the 48 fps as see the film that I'm not all that excited for.  Obviously some of that is me merely being an adult with a family and various adult responsibilities (four years ago, I ended up waiting until Saturday afternoon of its five-day opening weekend to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), but part of that is merely the fact that this new film is squarely pitched to the hardcore fans.  That's not a bad thing, it just means that the midnight screening (and opening Friday) will be more front loaded than the prior Lord of the Rings pictures.  So we're looking at a midnight-to-weekend percentage of 14-20%, with a possibility that potential bad word of mouth (obviously speculative here) gives us a multiplier closer to the 22% of the latter Harry Potter/Twilight pictures.  Realistically, The Hobbit is looking at an opening weekend of between $65 million and $93 million, with an off-chance of massive front loading giving the film something akin to a $59 million opening weekend.  So let's be realistic and give it $80 million for now.  

Scott Mendelson

Press Release: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD to go IMAX.


TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX’S A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
TO OPEN IN IMAX® THEATRES WORLDWIDE FEBRUARY 2013

LOS ANGELES – Dec. 14, 2012 – IMAX Corporation (NYSE:IMAX; TSX:IMX) today announced that A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth installment in Twentieth Century Fox’s enduring action-thriller series starring Bruce Willis, will be digitally re-mastered into the immersive IMAX®  format. The film will be released in IMAX® theatres internationally starting Feb. 7 and domestically beginning Feb. 14. This is the first IMAX installment of the Die Hard film franchise.

"The exhilarating action sequences that are the hallmark of the Die Hard franchise, as well as its global setting, make it a perfect fit for The IMAX Experience®,” said Greg Foster, Chairman and President of IMAX Filmed Entertainment. “We’re thrilled to partner again with the great team at Fox and for audiences worldwide to experience this franchise in IMAX for the first time.”

The IMAX release of A Good Day to Die Hard will be digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience® with proprietary IMAX DMR® (Digital Re-mastering) technology. The crystal-clear images, coupled with IMAX’s customized theatre geometry and powerful digital audio, create a unique environment that will make audiences feel as if they are in the movie.

About A Good Day to Die Hard
John McClane goes global. For the first time, the New York City cop, played by Bruce Willis, finds himself on an international stage – as a fish out of water in Moscow. The film introduces McClane’s estranged son Jack, an apple who hasn’t fallen far from the tree, and who may even be more of a hard-ass than his father. John and Jack must put aside their personal and professional differences, and work together to keep each other alive … and stop the Moscow underworld from controlling nuclear weapons.

About IMAX Corporation
IMAX, an innovator in entertainment technology, combines proprietary software, architecture and equipment to create experiences that take you beyond the edge of your seat to a world you’ve never imagined. Top filmmakers and studios are utilizing IMAX theatres to connect with audiences in extraordinary ways, and, as such, IMAX’s network is among the most important and successful theatrical distribution platforms for major event films around the globe.

IMAX is headquartered in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles, with offices in London, Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing.  As of Sept. 30, 2012, there were 689 IMAX theatres (556 commercial multiplex, 20 commercial destination and 113 institutional) in 52 countries.

IMAX®, IMAX® 3D, IMAX DMR®, Experience It In IMAX®, An IMAX 3D Experience®, The IMAX Experience® and IMAX Is Believing® are trademarks of IMAX Corporation. More information about the Company can be found at www.imax.com. You may also connect with IMAX on Facebook (www.facebook.com/imax), Twitter (www.twitter.com/imax) and YouTube (www.youtube.com/imaxmovies).

Brandon Peters returns! Brandon Peters dissects the Dirty Harry franchise part II: Magnum Force (1973)

Magnum Force
1973
Director: Ted Post
Starring:  Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, Mitchell Ryan, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, Felton Perry, David Soul
Rated R

What does a woman have to do to go to bed with you?

Try knocking on the door.


Dirty Harry returned to the screens after 2 years in the follow up, Magnum Force.  The sequel deals with turning the tables on Harry making go against what he seemed to be championing himself in the first film.  Whereas Harry’s vigilantism and recklessness was arguable to solve a case and the life of a girl before her time ran out, Magnum Force’s villains are just straight up executing those that managed to weasel out of the courtroom on technicalities. While the first film did include action and violence, it was more suspense oriented.  This film ramps up the violence to another level.  The kills are ruthless and gory.  Some of the deaths in this film will even make you wince.  The film also features a lot of boobies, including those of pre Three’s Company Suzanne Somers.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 in film: The female-driven blockbuster is no longer a surprise, no longer written off as a 'fluke'.

2012 isn't just the year where we saw one female-starring and/or female-centric blockbuster after another.  2012 was the year when such a thing no longer merited any real surprise.  Back in 2008, we also had a solid run of female-centric smash hits.  Sex and the City, Mama Mia!, and finally the initial Twilight installment.  But we also had endless hand wringing about what these successes meant to the industry and/or how these various films (especially the first and last) were oh-so harmful for their target demographic.  What a difference four years can make.  This year we had The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part II, and what looks to be a surefire smash in Les Miserables in a couple weeks.  And you could certainly make the case for the likes of the male-stripper dramedy Magic Mike, The Vow, and Prometheus (which of course starred Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron), as well as the rather successful Pitch Perfect which slowly grossed $65 million.  What's important isn't that these female-centric films all were pretty huge hits, with several achieving genuine blockbuster status.  What's important is that nobody really gave a damn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pacific Rim gets a suitably large-scale teaser...

Between this and Man of Steel (along with The Hangover part III), Warner Bros. is going to have a very nice summer. I don't know whether or not Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim is going to be anything more than basically a straight version of Monsters Vs. Aliens, but I've remarked before that I wish the 2009 Dreamworks animated feature was willing to take its 50's sci-fi throwback more seriously.  The scale of this picture is obviously huge, although these days commenting on the scale is about as useful as saying "Wow, great special effects!" about pretty much any major film past 1994. *Big* is the new normal for stuff like this, and I hope that either the film is more than just Robots Vs. Monsters or at least that it's a really really exciting version of said template.  Del Toro doesn't generally do soulless blockbusters, so one can presume that the picture has some substance.  If the film really hits big, expect Idris Elba's (in his natural accent it appears) rallying cry: "Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!" to become a catchphrase of sorts.  Anyway, this looks pretty terrific so we'll know more when we know more.  Pacific Rim opens July 12, 2013.  Any thoughts?

Scott Mendelson      

Trailer: GI Joe: Retaliation teases subversive global fantasy of the world's worst fears concerning American military might.

It will be amusing and interesting to see how Paramount was able to rejigger the story in order to put previously DOA 'Duke' (Channing Tatum) back into the movie after he was un-killed following his banner 2012 theatrical year.  But more interesting than that, I'd argue, is the film's weirdly subversive plotline.  Wisely continuing from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra's terrific cliffhanger, the Jon Chu-helmed sequel runs with the idea of the president of the United States being a literal world-wrecking super-villain.  We've had plenty of stories which toyed with the idea of an absolute monster attaining the highest office in the land, but they are usually defeated prior to election (or, in the case of the fifth season of 24, most of Gregory Yitzin's comparably tempered evildoing was committed prior to his exposure as the season's big bad).  Of course, with the president replaced by Arnold Vosloo's Zartan, the world must deal with an America that the world has arguably always feared.  Here we have a US president who basically uses America's stockpile to rain utter carnage on the world over.  I have to wonder if this plot thread is some kind of way to appeal to foreign markets, just as the film's conversion to 3D was more for overseas grosses than domestic ones (let's just say if you asked foreign audiences back in 2002 about The Two Towers, they probably said it was an Iraq-invasion parable very different from the one stateside audiences presumed).  Yes, the G.I. Joes are basically American, working to save their country from an internal threat.  But the idea of a US President gone mad with genocidal powers is something I don't think we've seen before, so for that reason alone G.I. Joe: Retaliation may end up being more than just a pointless sequel.  We'll know soon enough when it opens on March 29, 2013.   

Scott Mendelson

Review: Les Misérables (2012), via rigid source fidelity, sadly makes us question our love for the original show.

Les Misérables
2012
155 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

The harshest thing I can say about Tom Hooper's Les Misérables (teaser/trailer) is that I can only imagine those who have not seen the original show wondering what the fuss has been all about.  The film is painfully faithful, but film is a wholly different medium than live theater and the translation doesn't quite work.  The picture is full of fine performances, almost too good in fact. The film's much-discussed live on-set singing pretty much works, but it only yields inherently different results in a few occasions.  But still, the overall production feels akin to seeing the show for the first time, and that's not a good thing.  What perhaps felt epic on stage comes off onscreen like a rushed and overstuffed story with occasionally inexplicable narrative choices and occasionally misplaced character emphasis.  It comes off feeling less like one of the great epics of Broadway and more like a simplified and audience-pleasing version of the original Victor Hugo novel.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

John Gosling's weekend movie preview, featuring (of course) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

This will be John Gosling's final Weekend Movie Preview column for at least the immediate future.  I am quite thankful that we was willing to contribute his exhaustive and informative pieces for the last several months, and it is fitting that he finishes this up for an obscenely detailed run-down of the history of the lone new release this weekend (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), as it was his educational historical essay on The Amazing Spider-Man that brought him to my attention in the first place.  If you have a moment, please take a second to thank him in the comments section below.  He already has my thanks and my gratitude.

The Hobbit was written by J.R.R Tolkien and first published in 1937, to great acclaim. The fantasy novel told the tale of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his adventures with a group of dwarves, alongside Gandalf the Grey. Hugely influential, not to mention successful, it led Tolkien to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy, further establishing the world, characters and history of Middle Earth. Essentially written for children, The Hobbit's short story nature seemed ripe for adaptation, and indeed, it has appeared in many various guises over the intervening years including (but not limited to) stage and radio plays, computer games, comic books and an animated feature in 1977.


Zack Snyder's Man of Steel gets another mythic trailer...

I'm genuinely surprised that they didn't just release the Comic Con footage as a second trailer, but kudos to Warner Bros. for cutting something new anyway.  There's not much to say other than how primal and effective this is.  Obviously the use of soaring music (from Gladiator, I've just been informed) is almost cheating, but it's clear that Snyder and Nolan are going for a genuinely grandly epic tale of a God come to Earth to serve rather than lead.  I still think there is much that seems like it comes from Superman: Birthright, and that's a good thing.  I still like that the trailer spends little time on the usual 'action montage', giving away only bits and pieces while introducing both Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as General Zod in brief glimpses (along with Chris Meloni, Richard Schiff).  Anyway, this is still at the top of my 'must see' list for summer 2013.  Yes, the general outline arguably follows the Batman Begins template (overly reverent and real-world origin story), but more importantly we are hopefully looking at a superhero adventure by way of Terrence Malick, something that actually feels like a grand myth, a true story of legend, with pathos honestly not seen since, yes, Richard Donner's Superman.  And it's doing it without the iconic John Williams themes.  Man of Steel opens on June 13, 2013.  As always, we'll see, but I frankly can't wait.

Scott Mendelson

The Lone Ranger gets a, um, Lone Ranger-centric trailer.

What's interesting about this second and somewhat more plot-centric trailer is how is seems to follow the 1981 film The Legend of The Lone Ranger pretty closely for at least the first two acts.  I saw that film several years back and noticed how perfectly it fit what is now the standard superhero origin story template, even if it was hobbled by bare-bones production values (at least Christopher Lloyd made a great villain).  Anyway, the other thing of note is how little time Arnie Hammer apparently spends actually in costume.  Obviously he doesn't don the mask for at least the second act, and it appears that he is basically dressed 'normal' during at least one of the major train-centric action sequences.  Aside from those little details, this looks like fun, even if it looks a bit generic thus far.  Perhaps its the absence of specific villainy, as baddie Tom Wilkinson is nowhere to be found this time around (although Helena Bonham Carter shows up and Ruth Wilson seems to be quite imperiled).  I believe in Gore Verbinski, especially when working with Ted Elliott and Terry Russo (cause them f**kers wrote The Mask of Zorro!) so I'm optimistic until I'm given a very good reason not to be.  Anyway, so far, no cause for alarm.  The Lone Ranger opens July 3, 2013.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, December 10, 2012

M. Night Shamalan's After Earth gets a suitably cryptic trailer.

And the pre-Hobbit trailer deluge continues... Yes, this is the second 'people roaming around desolate Earth' trailer we've seen in 72 hours, but this is still a pretty solid looking trailer.  The scale looks appropriately large, and it looks to present naturalistic images that we've never seen before.  As with the golden age of M. Night Shyamalan trailers, this gives away little about the film aside from the very basic plot.  The voice over is arguably trying to hide the fact that Jaden Smith has much more screen time than Will Smith, which makes sense from a marketing standpoint.  Jaden Smith already stood toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan in one of his finest performances, so the question now is whether Jaden Smith has the natural ability to anchor a film all by himself ala Will Smith in I Am Legend.  Of course the secondary question is which M. Night Shyamalan came to work.  If it's the guy who directed Haley Joel Osmont to an Oscar nomination, then Jaden Smith will be just fine.  If it's the guy who directed the various young performers in The Last Airbender, then there is cause to be afraid.  Yes yes, fear is a state of mind, and I still believe that the Shyamalan who directed The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable is still alive.  We'll find out for sure when After Earth opens on June 7th, 2013.  I still haven't given up on him...

Scott Mendelson

New Star Trek Into Darkness image evokes serious deja vu....




 Gee, I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch intentionally allows himself to get captured in the second act as part of a devious multi-pronged plan to escape and cause havoc in the very lair of his enemies?  Will said post-capture/pre-escape sequence also allow Cumberbatch to monologue about how he and Kirk and/or Spock really aren't that different, that their apparent control is merely an illusion, and Kirk and Spock are foolish for supporting governmental institutions that will discard them once they outlive their usefulness? We'll see soon enough, but don't bet against it!

Scott Mendelson

How Zero Dark Thirty's unflinching objectivity opens the film up to simplistic accusations of ideological partisanship.


Spoiler warning, I suppose...

There is going to be a lot of debate over the next few months about just where on the political divide Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty happens to sit.  I argued in my review that it merely looks at what happened and what was done without explicitly endorsing or condemning it.  But in our somewhat simplistic media age, impartiality can be seen as being politically partial, depending on what your film happens to contain.  I've written about this before, back when The Green Zone came out (read it HERE).  Just because a film is about evil corporations who kill people doesn't mean it's intended as liberal propaganda and just because a pregnant woman chooses to not have an abortion doesn't mean it's an anti-choice screed.  I'd argue part of the point of Zero Dark Thirty is that non-fiction rarely falls into specific political or ideological dogmas.  At a glance, the film shows brutal torture ordered by Republican President Bush eliciting information that allowed for Democratic President Obama to order a mass killing by US troops in a sovereign country with only a token belief that the people about to be gunned down were the intended targets.  The film dares to neither explicitly condemn the torture nor remotely take joy in the climactic execution, presenting both events as morally reprehensible even if perhaps necessary to the proverbial 'greater good'.  Even if you argue that the film states that torture may well have worked (although the film certainly acknowledges that the carrot works better than the stick) and that we certainly 'got' Bin Laden, it also argues that we damn well should take a moment to inquire at what cost our 'victory' was achieved.

Into Lightness: Star Trek Into Darkness aside, here are six sequels that bucked the 'Go darker!' route.

With the first glimpse of Star Trek Into Darkness, most of the discussion centered around how the second Star Trek 2.0 picture seemed to be channeling Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight to an almost embarrassing degree. But to be fair, a trailer is a piece of marketing seemingly separate from the film itself.  And moreover, even if the new Star Trek  does end up going along the lines of 'lone agent of chaos upends the simple morality of Star Trek and makes Kirk/Spock question their ideals while causing destruction and killing off a major character or two', I would argue it's less about overtly ripping off The Dark Knight and more about simply following the sequel playbook.  In short, most sequels go darker, a trend that goes back to at least The Godfather part II.  And most sequels question the somewhat simplistic morality of the first film, as seen in the likes of The Matrix Revolutions and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.  But rather than dissect the sequel template (because I already kinda did that), I'd like to point out a handful of genre sequels that bucked that trend.  In short, these five sequels went the other direction, going in a comparatively lighter direction than their predecessors.  To wit...


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weekend Box Office (12-09-12): Playing For Keeps bombs as the moviegoing world awaits the Christmas rush.

The decision by Warner Bros. to move The Gangster Squad (trailerto January, 2013 and Universal's choice to move Les Miserables from next weekend to Christmas day should have caused a giant game of musical chairs.  It didn't, and now we have the second December weekend in a row (with one more to come) with just a single new release).  Meanwhile the last two weekends of the year are going to be jam-packed with major films (Jack Reacher, This Is Forty, DJango Unchained, The Guilt Trip, etc.), all of which could have *easily* topped the box office and/or dominated the competition had they opened this weekend or last weekend.  But weekends that are barren of new releases save for a Gerald Butler vehicle tend to be very boring box office weekends indeed.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Trailer: Tom Cruise *is* Wall-E in Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion!


It's no secret that I think Tron: Legacy is one of the worst would-be blockbusters in recent memory.  So the idea of another sci-fi would-be tentpole written and directed by Joseph Kosinski doesn't exactly fill me with glee, although the screenplay assist from William Monahan and Michael Ardnt should be noted.  But two things give me relative optimism.  First of all, Tom Cruise generally doesn't make out-and-out terrible films.  Oh sure Rock of Ages was among the worst films of his career, but he had a supporting role in that ensemble and everyone has to shoot an air ball sometime.  Second of all, this film is getting a full week of IMAX-only release, which I'd like to think Universal wouldn't be doing if the film wasn't going to get decent word-of-mouth ahead of its national April 19, 2013 release date.  As for the trailer, the first half amusingly resembles a live-action version of Wall-E before introducing Morgan Freeman and kicking into a somewhat more generic science-fiction action picture.  I'm betting that Sony wishes it had released its teaser for M. Night Shyamalan's somewhat similar sounding After Earth, although we'll see how the Will Smith sci-fi film compares when it teases next weekend with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  The cast is pretty solid, including the likes of Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Andrea Riseborough, and Melissa Leo.  I wouldn't say it looks *good* so much as to admit that it doesn't look *bad*.  Anyway, as always, we'll see.  If you have any thoughts, share them below.

Scott Mendelson   

Friday, December 7, 2012

2012 in film: Audiences show (relatively) good taste.

We won't know what effect the 2012 movie year will have long term for quite awhile, but we may very well come to see 2012 as the year audiences said "Thanks, but no thanks."  No, I'm not talking about some imaginary movie going slump that never was and arguably never will be.  I'm talking about the fact that this year, seemingly moreso than in recent years prior, American audiences seemed actually almost... picky?  If you glance at the films that were hits and the films that were bombs, you'll notice at least a token quality curve, especially when dealing with the mainstream and/or blockbusters.  Time and time again, audiences seemingly rejected the prepackage blockbusters that were tossed their way as if to ignite some kind of Pavlovian response.  While on the other hand, they seemed to embrace not so much the 'good' would-be blockbusters but ones that existed somewhat outside the conventional wisdom about what could or couldn't reach mega-gross levels. To a certain extent, at least to a degree worth acknowledging, conventional wisdom went out the window in 2012.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Essay: Merrill Barr explains why a Canadian television show, Flashpoint, was an American television game-changer.


The Canadian Cop Show That Broke American Television

by Merrill Barr

I don’t hold it against you if you've never heard of Flashpoint. It’s a show that has flown under the radar to American audiences since its beginning. Constantly being shifted around in time slots and networks for the last five years makes it difficult to maintain a regular audience. But there’s a reason the show should matter to you. While its end draws near (the series finale airs in only a few weeks on American television), its legacy to the American television business model will stand the test of time.


Star Trek Into Darkness gets a very 'Dark Knight' teaser...



I don't know if this qualifies as a teaser for a trailer, but since this seems to be a complete piece in-and-of itself, I'll let it slide.  Obviously the scope looks huge, but jeez how badly do J.J. Abrams and company want to market this as The Dark Knight of Star Trek films?  From the 'I'm going to shake you out of your comfort zone!' monologue from the lone bringer-of-chaos villain to the Inception/Dark Knight trailer music, it's humorously clear what the marketing template is.  Of course, if the film turns out to just be 'making a Nolan Batman film, but with Star Trek', that may be an issue (Star Trek generally hasn't faired well when going 'dark/gritty'), but for now let's presume that it's just Paramount marketing.  Of note is the second Japanese teaser, which includes an additional final shot that A) may be very very spoilery and B) ends the teaser on a more potent musical note.  Watch at your own risk, although I can't imagine a film as top-secret as this one (we still don't know who Cumberbatch is playing) would tease something that major in the first piece of marketing.  Anyway, the full teaser-trailer will be attached to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on December 14th and Paramount is keeping it offline until December 17th, which would be cooler of them if they hadn't just released this online-only teaser.  And of course the 9-minute IMAX tease will be attached to IMAX prints of The Hobbit.  Star Trek Into Darkness (still an awful title, natch) opens May 17th, 2013.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Deserved but denied: Six Oscar-worthy contenders who almost certainly won't get that nomination...

I come not to complain about what will be nominated in this year's Oscar race, but rather to shed a light on some under-loved and/or undervalued examples of 2012's film line-up.  Be it strong performances, sharp screenplays, and everything in between, here is just a sampling of the people and things that darn-well deserve a nomination but all-but surely won't get one.  Obviously share your own in the comments section:

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths:
This Martin McDonagh gem turned out to be a splendidly brilliant and insightful riff on both violent gangster melodramas and the very nature of how we romanticize fictional doers of violence. Pretty much everyone in the large cast delivers solid work, but Christopher Walken stands out and turns in what I consider one of the finest performances of his long career.  I don't want to spoil too much about his mournful and thoughtful 'psychopath', but the work is a perfect blend of 'Christopher Walken the gimmick' and 'Christopher Walken the fantastic actor'.  It's witty and moving work, and it acts not only as the film's proverbial heart-and-soul but an iconic take on Walken's entire career.


Playing For Keeps versus... well everything that's already out in John Gosling's weekend movie preview (12-07-12).

The first weekend in December is generally noted as being one of the quietest of the entire cinema-going year. Studios are loathe to see a major release lost to people opting to get their Christmas shopping started (or finished). In 2011, there wasn't a single wide release on this weekend, while 2010 saw The Warrior's Way, which vanished as quickly as it had appeared. This year is no different, with just one solitary release in the guise of romantic comedy, Playing For Keeps. The story follows George, an ex-soccer player who returns home and ends up coaching his son's team, while at the same time trying to get his life back in order. As the new, good-looking guy in town, he finds himself having to contend with the not so pure intentions of the gorgeous soccer mums while attempting to reconcile with his ex-wife, who is about to get re-married. There's also a potentially life-changing job at ESPN in the offing, if George is willing to leave his son behind once more. Director Gabriele Muccino got his start in Hollywood on the 2006 Will Smith drama, The Pursuit of Happyness, but had been directing in Europe a number of years prior that. 


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

2012 in film: Pre-Theatrical VOD goes mainstream...

This will be the first in a series of essays detailing 'the year in film', spotlighting certain trends (mostly positive, I'm taking a break from complaining for a bit) of the nearly finished year.  Obviously I can't amass a best-of list until I see a few more alleged gems, mainly Les Miserables and Django Unchained, but I can start a retrospective of the movie year that was 2012.   

Normally when a film opens with $3,181 on three screens it's considered a pretty big flop.  Yet this past weekend saw the theatrical release of the surprisingly very good Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, which marked the proverbial end of a seemingly successful run on pre-theatrical video on demand.  I say 'seemingly' because studios aren't yet releasing the proverbial grosses of films on this format, even ones that debut on VOD prior to theatrical release (Bachelorette made news as the top iTunes download on its opening week, but we have yet to know how much money that is).  It's release followed on the heels of Barry Levinson's The Bay, which is quite frankly the scariest American horror film I have seen since Frank Darabont's The Mist.  It opened in theaters and VOD on the same day and earned a whopping $30,000 during a two-week theatrical run.  Following the somewhat surprising VOD performance of Margin Call, which debuted day-and-date in theaters and VOD and rang up decent numbers on both formats (the $3.5 million picture earned $16 million worldwide in theaters), 2012 has seen an explosion of pre-theatrical and/or day-and-date theatrical/VOD content like never before. The sheer amount of content, relatively high-quality content, available on VOD amounts to a second film release schedule.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness gets a very 'Chris Nolan' poster.

When I wrote 3.5 years ago that Paramount hoped that the inevitable Star Trek 2 would "pull a Dark Knight", I didn't realize how literal I was apparently being.  Coupled with the teaser trailer attached to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Beginning and a 9-minute IMAX sneak peak attached to IMAX prints of same, this first teaser poster shows Paramount is copying the Chris Nolan Dark Knight playbook to a tee.  Snickering about obvious similarities aside, this is a very stylish and impressive poster.  It's the first official glimpse at Benedict Cumberbatch as 'He who has not yet been named', with implications that he does score a big win at some point in the picture.  So yes, it's a poster in the vein of the last three Chris Nolan films.  But  that doesn't mean it's not a very effective piece of marketing and/or art.

Scott Mendelson

Better roles for child actresses than adult actresses? Jennifer Lawrence graduates to 'adult' roles by playing the token girlfriend/manic pixie dream girl.

Yes, this started as deleted material from my Silver Linings Playbook essay from Saturday. I don't want to get into another 'roles for women' rant, but it's interesting that Jennifer Lawrence may win an Oscar for arguably the first role of her career where she exists purely to support the male lead's arc (even her token girlfriend role in The Beaver had a character arc for *her*). She has not a single scene in this film where she exists as a character outside of her role as Bradley Cooper's girlfriend/spiritual healer. She is basically a glorified manic pixie fuck toy who exists purely to support the male lead's emotional journey, not fit for even a single scene disconnected from Cooper's story. This parallels the career trajectory of the likes of Shailene Woodley and Blake Lively, solid actresses who did film and/or television work as leads who only earned real acclaim after they took supporting roles in more automatically prestigious 'manly dramas'. Blake Lively was a lead in films like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the television show Gossip Girl.  But she was written off as a kid-friendly television star before she played a strung-out junkie with romantic feelings for Ben Affleck's oh-so-conflicted bank robber in The Town. Shailene Woodley was a lead actress in ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but critics only started taking her seriously once she played supporting fiddle to George Clooney in The Descendants. It's a great film and Woodley is terrific in it, but would critics have even noticed the picture had it been told from her point of view? I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this as the newer crop of child actresses 'come of age'.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend Box Office (12-02-12): Killing Them Softly stumbles as holdovers dominate.

The post-Thanksgiving weekend is among the worst frames of the year for movie going.  With the exception of Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai back in 2003 and Behind Enemy Lines back in 2001, I can't think of a single wide release major movie that broke out over this specific weekend (feel free to jog my memory in the comments section).  So the fact that there were only two low-profile openers isn't a surprise, nor is it a surprise that neither film opened all that well.  The top opener of the weekend was Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly (review/trailer).  The well reviewed crime drama/political parable earned just $7 million over the weekend, which makes it Brad Pitt's worst wide release live-action opening since before he became a movie star (IE - Interview With the Vampire in 1994) The film was originally slotted to open in October before getting tossed into this early December death slot.  Among the many would-be Oscar bait films coming from the Weinstein Company, this one sadly got lost in the shuffle.  In September it was all about The Master and now it's about expanding The Silver Linings Playbook (a solid $3.3 million this weekend on 371 screens) and prepping for the Christmas Day release of Django Unchained.  The inexplicably received an "F" from Cinemascore, which is odd as the film was seen by such a small number of people that you'd presume those who went knew what they were getting into.  Anyway, at least the Weinstein Company released the film wide, meaning that those who wanted to see it got to see it.  Costing just $15 million, it's already made that much overseas and should break even once domestic receipts are tabulated.  Call this one a win for art over commerce.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

I loathe the merely mediocre The Silver Linings Playbook because it's considered Oscar-worthy. Fair/Unfair?

I didn't much care for The Silver Linings Playbook.  I found it to be a painfully formulaic romantic comedy that seems to think making its lead duo a little quirky justifies a paint-by-numbers screenplay and rather thin characterizations.  I think the film's strong and painful first act, where David O Russell doesn't shy away from the heartache and constant stress of living with a mentally-disturbed adult, gives way to a 'up with quirky people' rom-com where Jennifer Lawrence basically plays a fantasy fuck toy and/or manic pixie dream girl who exits purely to pull Bradley Cooper out of his mental anguish (that she may win an Oscar for this of all performances merits an essay in-and-of-itself).  I think Robert De Niro's alleged 'comeback' turn is wildly overrated, as he is given little to do aside from two token monologues.  And the film goes completely off the rails into contrivance in its final thirty minutes, with the kind of inexplicable 'raised stakes' that would have been laughed off the screen in a vehicle starring the likes of Kathryn Heigl or Jennifer Aniston.  Yet here we sit where this completely generic and contrived romantic comedy is considered an Oscar contender.  So the question becomes, is it right that I carry more negative feelings about the picture primarily because of its alleged award-worthy status?  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is a powerful tale of the costs of 'justifiable' violence.

Zero Dark Thirty
2012
150 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (trailer) is a refreshing 'just the facts' procedural drama that maintains an almost allergic aversion to melodrama.  The film is ice-cold throughout, maintaining an even-keeled approach to the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, pausing only occasionally to acknowledge the aftermath of violence.  At a glance, the film is basically the Jessica Chastain show, as she quickly becomes the center of the film and dominates the proceedings even when the focus shifts in the final thirty minutes.  Hers is a dynamite movie star performance, one that is not only Oscar-worthy but will likely win her the statute in a few months time.  The film surrounding her is an intense and often fascinating 'inside' look at both the 'dark side' and the mundane side of the would-be War on Terror.  It's a nasty bit of business, and its matter-of-fact presentation of unsavory details could be read as an implicit endorsement, just as its climactic brutality denies you the catharsis you might be expecting.  It merely exists to tell its story, not tell you how to feel about it.

Brandon Peters says: Watch the Dirty Harry franchise during G4's all-day marathon this Saturday!

Hey Mendelnites (can we use that, Scott?), in the even you've never seen the Dirty Harry series or would like to in order to keep with my dissection, but are unable to find the films or don't want to shell out $$ - you're in luck.

This Saturday (December 1st), the G4 Network (the one that pretty much airs Cops like its 1992) is marathoning the Dirty Harry series all day and probably 2 or 3 times through. So, either plop down and marathon it yourself or set your DVR!

Brandon Peters

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Brandon Peters returns! Brandon Peters dissects the Dirty Harry franchise part I: Dirty Harry (1971)

Previously in Mendelson's Memos...

"Did Brandon write about 24 (007) movies or 25? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being this is Mendelson’s Memos, the most powerful punditry in the world, and would blow your Blog clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question about the next retrospective: "Do I feel lucky?" Well do ya, punk?"

20 days later...

For those who enjoyed Brandon Peters's insanely exhaustive James Bond retrospective reviews, rejoice at his return to the world of franchise retrospectives.  This time around, it's a mere five picture, which span from 1971 to 1988.  Yup, it's the Dirty Harry franchise.  As always, I'll do my best to stay out of it (I wrote about the franchise in a film school paper back in 2001), but I implore you to not do the same.  Anyway, without further ado, into the world of Harry Callaghan we go!


Dirty Harry
1971
Director: Don Siegel
Starring:  Clint Eastwood, Andy Robinson, John Vernon, Reni Santoni
Rated R

And now, after 25 Bond films, I’m doing the “one for me” retrospective.  Hopefully it can turn into a “one for you” too.  The Dirty Harry series is one of my favorite film franchises.  I’ve noticed there’s not a whole lot of retrospective analysis on the internet about a five film franchise spanning 17 years.  It’s likely because the series hasn’t had an entry since 1988.  There were some brief talks of a reboot in the last decade, but nothing came to fruition.  And quite frankly, Dirty Harry’s mark is so firmly implanted on the action hero that a reboot or return isn’t at all going to prove or do anything.  And if you really want that extra entry, you can pretend Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino is named Harry Callahan. 

Press Release and Commentary: Disney names Jennifer Lee as co-director of Frozen and it will be a musical.

FRZN_Title_NoSnowflake


There are two things of note in the press release, which I've include in full after the jump.  One, obviously, Disney is making another go at having an animated feature directed by a woman and actually featuring female protagonists (plural!) at its center.  Obviously one can only hope this story has a happier ending than Brenda Chapman's experiences on Pixar's Brave and one can only hope we'll soon reach the point when hiring a female filmmaker to direct a major animated feature isn't considered major news.  Anyway, Ms. Lee recently co-wrote Wreck It Ralph.  The other bit, arguably almost burying the lead, comes right at the end.

"With original songs by Tony®-award winner Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Avenue Q”) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“In Transit”), “Frozen” journeys into theaters Nov. 27, 2013, in Disney Digital 3D™ in select theaters."

That's right, folks.  Disney is apparently crafting another old-school 90s-style musical and just like the Waking Sleeping Beauty era, they are stealing from Broadway to do it.  Interesting... Anyway, the press release is below and feel free to share your thoughts on this nugget of news.

Scott Mendelson


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Learn all about Killing Them Softly and The Collection in John Gosling's weekend movie preview (11-30-12).

A couple of quiet weeks ahead before The Hobbit arrives on December 14th. This week brings us the dark thriller, Killing Them Softly, which stars Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins. The plot sees a couple of low-rung criminals deciding to rob a mob-controlled card game, figuring no one will suspect them given that the guy in charge of the game (Liotta) had already robbed one previously. But the mob aren't going to take it lying down and hire ruthless enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) to get to the bottom of the situation and bring about swift retribution. Set against a background of economic turmoil in America, Cogan soon discovers not even he (or the mob) is immune to the cost cutting affecting the country, but that a job still has to be done regardless. The film is based on the 1974 novel, Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins and was adapted for the screen by writer/director Andrew Dominik. Dominik shot to fame thanks to his violent black comedy debut, Chopper (which starred Eric Bana) before teaming up with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck for the acclaimed Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.   Work began on what was originally called Cogan's Trade back in 2010, and by November of that year, the film was announced as a go-project, with early rumors suggesting Pitt would re-team with Dominik to take on the lead role. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rumor commentary: Joseph Gordon-Levitt may be playing Batman in the Justice League movie.

HitFix broke the story late last night and while I generally try to avoid commenting on rumors, McWeeny is a pretty trustworthy source for this kind of thing.  Anyway, long story short, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is allegedly in talks to reprise his role as John Blake (cough-Tim Drake-cough) in Warner Bros.' upcoming Justice League film.  Said superhero team-up is set to open in summer 2015 (July 17th, I'd presume), where it will square off against The Avengers 2 and Star Wars Episode VII.  So if the rumor comes to pass, it looks like John Blake will be the man in the cowl, as opposed to a new actor playing a new Bruce Wayne.  Also of note, John Blake (as Batman?) will allegedly make a post-production cameo in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which comes off of Snyder's comments stating that Man of Steel won't be as closed-world as he had previously indicated.  So presuming this is all true and not just a rumor or a gambit to drum up interest in next week's DVD/Blu Ray release of The Dark Knight Rises, what do I think?  Well, it's both not terribly surprising and incredibly shocking.  

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