Wednesday, August 15, 2012

John Gosling previews the weekend's new releases (08-17-12).

Something for everyone this week, with four major releases and a potentially interesting limited one. 

The first Expendables movie was like an action-fanboy's dream, with a special nod to the 1980s. From a story by David Callaham, Sylvester Stallone wrote, directed and starred in the feature, with action stars Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li and Jason Statham, being joined by MMA fighter Randy Couture, former wrestler Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke. The film also managed the scoop of featuring a short scene with Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The ensemble flick followed Stallone's team of expendables on a mission to take out a military leader and a corrupt CIA official (played by another 80s veteran, Eric Roberts). While not quite delivering on the wall to wall action some were hoping for, it was a global smash, making $107M domestically, with a further $174M overseas, on a budget pegged at $80M. Before the film was even in theatres, Stallone was already talking a sequel, and his plan to bring back even more action icons next time around. The follow-up was greenlit a few months later with the star adapting a story by Ken Kaufman, David Agosto and Richard Wenk. By April 2011 things were shaping up but Stallone announced he would not return to direct, instead, Con-Air's Simon West, who had worked with Statham on the remake of The Mechanic, would be at the helm. He hired story co-creator Richard Wenk to pen a new draft of the script, after which casting commenced. 

After seeing the success of the first film, a number of stars expressed an interest in being part of the sequel. 80s action legend Chuck Norris accepted a role, as did Jean Claude Van Damme, who had actually turned down a spot in the first flick. He'd now play the lead villain, aided by actor and martial artist Scott Adkins. (Van Damme also re-worked a major fight sequence with Stallone's approval). Further additions included Liam Hemsworth and Yu Nan. Rumoured, but ultimately failing to appear for one reason or another, were Donnie Yen, Charlie Sheen, John Travolta, Nic Cage and Antonio Banderas, and while Mickey Rourke was originally scheduled to reprise the role of Tool,  by September 2011 it was confirmed that the actor would not return. Obviously Stallone would once again play Barney Ross, alongside Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li (who some thought would be replaced by the aforementioned Donnie Yen), Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Charisma Carpenter. Willis and Schwarzenegger would be back too, in a more substantial capacity. Filming on the $100M feature commenced last September but ran into a number of issues, not least of which were the death and serious injury of two stuntmen while shooting in Bulgaria. The production was also blamed for a number of environmental issues that arose while filming took place. As well as Bulgaria, the feature also took in Russia, Hong Kong and France, with principal photography announced complete by January 2012.

But as post-production began, a worrying rumour came to light - that at Chuck Norris' demand, the picture would have to be cut and released for a PG-13 certificate. While many laughed this off (the original picture had been R-rated), Sylvester Stallone confirmed to AICN's Harry Knowles that they were indeed aiming for a lower rating this time around (though there has never been any confirmation that this was down to Norris). The film's certificate would continue to be the subject of much debate, with various stories and comments bouncing it between PG-13 and R. The first footage appeared in mid December of 2011, with a full trailer arriving just as summer kicked off, promising more of everything - stars, action and explosions. The only question remaining was whether the fan base would return for the sequel. Signs went from good to great when Simon West stated in an interview with Empire that the film would indeed be R-rated, with the official MPAA rating confirming the news in late July. With competition coming mainly from The Bourne Legacy (Total Recall was DOA and The Dark Knight Rises is looking a little long in the tooth), there'll still be plenty of room for The Expendables 2 to perform, especially as it would be targeting a slightly older demographic. It's time for the 80s action heroes to ride again. 

Our family offering this week is ParaNorman (in 3D), a stop-motion animated feature from the company that brought Coraline to theatres back in 2009. Laika have once again gone for something a little off the straight and narrow with ParaNorman, which sees a misunderstood boy with the ability to speak to the dead, called to save his town when an ancient witch's curse unleashes all manner of ghouls, zombies and otherworldly nasties. Voicing the role of Norman is The Road's Kodi Smit-McPhee, and he's joined by Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Directing duties fell to Chris Butler and Sam Fell, the former making his directorial debut after working as a story board artist on Coraline, while the later cut his teeth on the UK tv series Rex The Runt, before going on to co-direct Flushed Away(who's other co-director, David Bowers, helms current release, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days). The teaser for the film appeared over Halloween 2011, with the first of two standard trailers appearing in December (the other debuted in March). Production company Laika is owned by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, and is headed by his son, Travis. Their work is split between commercial products, such as music videos and advertisements, and feature productions. While Coraline (directed by Henry Selick) was their first completed film, the company also had CGI flick Jack & Ben’s Animated Adventure in production at around the same time, but which ended up being cancelled in 2008. Selick himself left Laika after the release of Coraline when contract renegotiations fell apart. As with their previous release, ParaNorman is being distributed by Focus Features, which may explain the slightly lower-key marketing push. While there has been a glut of CGI animated releases in the last few months (Brave, Madagascar 3 and the fourth Ice Age film), there's always room for a new one, thoughParaNorman's PG certificate (and scary themes) might stop it being the film of choice for those parents with very young children. 

Amongst the other wide opening releases this weekend is Sparkle, a remake of the 1976 film of the same name, which starred Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas. The plot in this new version, which follows the original closely (though swaps the 50s for the 60s) sees struggling singer Sparkle, team up her two sisters in an attempt to break into the Motown scene. Things are further complicated for her by a new romance with a music manager, and her sister's affair with an abusive drug pusher, not to mention having to deal with her tough single mother, a performer herself back in the day. The film may well have fallen under the radar of many people, were it not for the tragic death of Whitney Houston back in February, who takes on the role of Sparkle's mother, Emma. Houston's involvement with the project stretches back to the mid-90s, when her BrownHouse production company secured the rights to remake the film (indeed, Houston is said to have been hugely influenced by the original picture, inspiring her on some level, to become a singer). Her first choice for the role of Sparkle had been Aaliyah, but when the R&B singer was killed in a plane crash in 2001, the project was put on hold. Move forward to 2011, and having seen success with the TV show Girlfriends, and with theatrical release Jumping The Broom, the husband and wife team of Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil became attached to direct and produce the film, with Houston executively producing and playing the aforementioned role of Emma. Sparkle herself would be played by singer Jordin Sparks (marking her film debut) with Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter as her sisters. The film shot in Detroit from October through to the end of November and began post-production shortly after. The first trailer would debut in April, two months after the singer's death, with Tristar setting an August release date for what would sadly be Whitney Houston's final on-screen performance (the picture is also dedicated to her). It's hard to gauge how well the film will open, certainly its profile with the public has been raised, and that may have influenced the studio to push the film into more locations (along with the quite extensive use of Houston's character in the trailer to further promote awareness). It will face no direct competition as such, and could be become a fitting swansong for Houston's career. 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a fantasy drama starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton. It follows the tale of a couple who discover they are unable to conceive. One night, while drowning their sorrows they make a list of hopes, dreams and achievements that they would have wanted for their child. Still slightly tipsy, they take the list, place it in a box and bury it in the garden. Next morning they're surprised to find a ten year old boy at their door, who claims them as family. However they soon discover that 'Timothy Green' is far more special than they could have ever imagined. The idea was the brainchild of Ahmet Zappa (son of Frank), who would go on to produce the film with Scott Sanders (this marks the first film produced through Sander's 2007 deal with Disney). With funding in place, Peter Hedges, director of Dan in Real Life and Pieces of April, signed on to adapt and direct the story in June 2009. While Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg were both said to be in the running for the role of Jim Green, it would ultimately go to Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Thing). He would join the already cast Jennifer Garner and relative newcomer CJ Adams (Cindy and Timothy Green respectively). Production went smoothly and the first teaser appeared in August 2011, with a full trailer coming in May of this year. With this being a busy week, Disney opted to get a jump on the competition by releasing the picture on Wednesday. With a $40M production budget attached, the feel good drama will be looking to play as counter-programming to The Expendables and ParaNorman as we enter the weekend.

Opening in a limited capacity is the much talked about Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg directing Robert Pattinson, in an adaptation of Dom DeLillo's novel of the same name. The film takes place mainly in the back of Pattinson's character's limousine, as the billionaire Eric Packer makes his way across Manhattan for a haircut. Through the course of the journey he encounters all manner of people, and indulges in a number of questionable practices, while the world around him is falling deeper into chaos. The picture also stars Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti and Juliette Binoche, and marks another step away from the Twilight universe for Pattinson. Cronenberg had been attached to the project since 2009, going on to adapt and direct the picture. Originally Colin Farell had been cast in the Eric Parker role but couldn't make the filming schedule work alongside Total Recall, paving the way for Pattinson to join the project. Similarly, Marion Cotillard had been involved at one point but commitments to other films also put her out of the running. Debuting at Cannes to mixed reviews, Cosmopolis is set to open limited, but easily being the biggest theatrical release for Entertainment One, a successful media distribution company who have, up to this point, only dabbled in film. They'll be hoping some of Robert Pattinson's Twilight fans will show up this weekend, even if they're not sure what waits in store for them.

John Gosling

John Gosling - I'm a married father with two daughters who resides in central England. I've always been a film buff, but I prefer writing about films to watching them. I've been an amateur box office reporter since 2002, writing a weekly report from mid-2004. After posting my report on an internet forum for a number of years, I transferred them to a dedicated site, earlier in 2012. You can find me on twitter @boxofficevoodoo or find Box Office Voodoo on Facebook.

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