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
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
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.


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.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Killing Them Softly (2012) is a strong crime drama slightly bogged down by overly explicit subtext.

Killing Them Softly
95 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly has, from a conversational standpoint, one of the finest screenplays of the last few years.  It is a relatively low-key crime drama, filled with crusty character actors doing chewy character turns.  But more importantly, certainly more importantly than its sledgehammer subtext (more on that later), it is an absolute revelation in terms of the art of cinematic conversation.  The film is rich with authentic dialogue and thoughtful discussion, both of the film's issues and of matters related merely to character.  Frankly most of the film involves two or three characters conversing with each other, so it's a good thing the dialogue is so darn good.  When the film stays within its own world, it is a top-notch entry in its sub-genre.  Its only real fault is in trying too hard to achieve topicality and relevance, to the point where the subtext becomes explicit text.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: Hitchcock (2012) thinks you can't handle the truth.

95 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

It is telling that the opening frames of Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock don't even give us the usual 'based on a true story' text as its allegedly non-fiction story begins.  It's the only honest moment of the entire picture, which is so gloriously full of shit that it can't bear to even pretend that the story it's presenting is remotely truthful.  Technically based on Stephen Rebello's 1990 book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the film alters history, dilutes the contributions of talented individuals, commits outright libel against others, while basically ignoring its central subject (the, um, making of Psycho) in favor of a contrived would-be romantic conflict between Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).  Worse yet, the story is told in broad, on-the-nose strokes that resembles the kind of writing found in bad childrens' cartoons and the picture revolves around hindsight-superiority that renders it potently obnoxious.  It plays less as an adult drama and more like a Hitchcock biography blandly written for first-graders.

Weekend Box Office: Rise of the Guardians stumbles as most everything else (Life of Pi, Red Dawn, etc.) flies.

As I wrote yesterday, this weekend was a perfect example of the issue with reporting cumulative box office as if it means anything.  Yes it was the biggest Thanksgiving weekend on record ($295 million total over the five days), but such a thing tends to happen when you have three strong holdovers and three relatively strong new releases in one frame.  As always, it's the movies.  More importantly, total weekend box office success is only important if your film is among the ones doing well.  

Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians basically flopped.  There's really no nice way to say it.  In five days, the $145 million animated film earned $32.6 million while earning just $24 million over Fri-Sun.  As I mentioned yesterday, this is the lowest opening weekend, by a very large margin, for Dreamworks Animation since Flushed Away back in Fall 2006 ($18 million).  Even the film's five-day total ($32.6 million) puts it as the lowest comparative three-day opening weekend since 2006 and their 17th lowest total out of 25 films.  The reasoning for this actually pretty simple.  The film didn't look very visually appealing, the marketing didn't promise anything beyond a painfully generic story (both sadly true about the film itself), and the campaign was based upon the idea that having three holiday icons that everyone knew (Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny) and two that were far less well-known in pop culture (Jack Frost and the Sand Man) engaging in a riff on the first X-Men picture was automatically appealing. It wasn't, and with Lincoln and Skyfall winning out as consensus choices for large families, and with Life of Pi  coming out far stronger than expected as a family film choice, plus the still-strong Wreck It Ralph ($149 million thus far, making a go at Tarzan's $171 million finish), Rise of the Guardians just couldn't muscle out of the pack.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reason 4,325 why cumulative box office is a stupid statistic...

If you've read this site for any length of time, you've heard me claim about the constant reporting of what's basically called cumulative box office.  Cumulative box office is basically the total weekend box office of all films currently in theaters.  It's the kind of statistic that presumes that box office is a team sport, rather than a solo enterprise.  It's the stat that led to the whole 'great movie-going slump' of 2005, wherein various box office pundits screamed that movie going was doomed because the cumulative weekends were down from the same respective weekends in 2004, never mind that different movies were being released in summer 2005 compared to summer 2004.  Since then we've had any number of 'slumps!', usually during periods when we had more smaller, lower-budget films instead of non-stop tent poles every weekend.  This weekend  we're going to hear a lot of talk about how this Thanksgiving is the biggest Thanksgiving ever by around $20 million.  That's terrific news for the industry I suppose, especially if you're the part of the industry releasing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 or Skyfall.  But if you're the part of the industry that's releasing Rise of the Guardians, you're probably not having a very good Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Comic books for boys, Young-adult literature for girls: On the coming blockbuster-tentpole gender divide...

If you've been paying attention to the various trailers being unleashed in the wake of Breaking Dawn part 2's last week, you'll notice a fevered pitch by the studios to plant their flag in the sand in the newest 'hot' sub-genre.  By that I mean the young-lit franchise adaption. In just the last week we've seen trailers for The Host (trailer and character posters) and The Mortal Instruments (trailer) as they joined the previously advertised Beautiful Creatures (trailer and poster) in the chase to become 'the next Twilight'. What we're seeing is the creation of what amounts to the next blockbuster sub-genre: the young-adult literary adaptation.  The three above films won't be the only ones coming down the pike and we may even see one or two more over the 2013 calendar year on top of the November release of Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  In basic concept they aren't all that different from traditional comic book superhero sagas: An unlikely person realizes that they are unique and have powers (or must take powers) that will allow them to protect humanity from the evil in our midst.  Both sub-genres have room for character actors and/or major movie stars in smaller roles and both have the potential to break-out and become true tent poles. But the core difference between these sub-genres is pretty obvious.  Many, if not most, of them feature female leads.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Despite CGI overload, the first trailer for Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer shows character.

Against all odds, I was actually somewhat amused this this trailer.  Yes the film looks CGI-heavy, even to the point where realistic effects don't quite look real.  And yes the story is a somewhat formualic 'save the princess' narrative.  But as with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (which was also sold as a 'save the hot girl' adventure), character counts.  So I am amused by Ewan McGregor and his ridiculous hair.  I am pleased that Eleanor Tomlinson A) doesn't seem to spend all that much of the film in a cage and B) isn't forced to go hard-core 'feisty'.  And I am tickled pink by the idea of Stanley Tucci as a bemused villain, with just enough camp to be entertaining but not seemingly inclined to go full-tilt ham.  Nicholas Hoult doesn't make much of an impression, but the straight man is often forced to be earnest while everyone else has fun in his presence.  Bill Nighy, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, and Warwick Davis round out the gang, so it certainly seems like director Bryan Singer got quite a few respectable names to go all Dead Man's Chest for the occasion.  The shifting release dates and title changes should point to doom ahead.  And the fact that Bryan Singer decided to return to the X-Men franchise is perhaps the grimmest signal of all.  But despite myself I am somewhat pleased at what I saw.  Am I the only one?  Jack the Giant Slayer opens from Warner Bros. in 2D and 3D on March 1, 2013.  It certainly looks more fun than Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and/or Oz: The Great and Powerful.  But as always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson         

Fox takes its shot at the animation crown with an Epic trailer.

Putting aside the unfortunate "comic relief" of Aziz Ansari's wisecracking slug, this looks quite promising.  The film looks gorgeous and there does seem to be an attempt to tell a mostly serious adventure story.  I missed the earlier, nearly wordless teaser from awhile back, but both previews use Snow Patrol's "What If the Storm Ends?" to rather powerful effect, similar to how well 20th Century Fox used Creed's "Higher" for their Titan A.E. campaign thirteen years ago.  I could do with a little less celebrity casting (Christoph Waltz is distracting as the heavy), but a female protagonist in a film like this is always a plus. Also a plus: Danny Elfman is doing the score.  What's curious is how much this feels like a Dreamworks film, in a good way of course.  For years every wise-cracking animal cartoon was accused of ripping off Dreamworks even as DWA made but a single such movie, Over the Hedge (arguably the best such film in that sub-genre), which came out right at the same time as the likes of Open Season, Barnyard: The Original Party Animals, and The Ant Bully.  This feels more like an attempt to capture the, well, epic adventure found in the Rise of the Guardians, How to Train Your Dragon, the Kung Fu Panda series, and Puss In Boots.  Still, say what you will about the diminishing creative returns for the Ice Age series, Rio was a genuinely entertaining and arguably original animated feature.  As I said a few weeks ago, the holes in Pixar's armor has allowed its competitors to come out in full force.  This seems to be Fox taking its best shot.  Epic opens May 24th, 2013.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson        

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Red Dawn, Rise of the Guardians or Life of Pi? John Gosling previews the Thanksgiving weekend's new releases.

Red Dawn is a remake of the controversial 1984 film of the same name, which was written and directed by John Millius. Made as the threat of nuclear war was prevalent, it saw Russia and its allies invading America, with the picture focusing on a small town and a group of high school kids turned resistance fighters. Apart from its notoriety in 1984, it also became the first picture to receive a PG-13 rating and was deemed the most violent film ever made by the Guinness Book of Records, with a total of 134 acts of violence committed in its run time. Thought to be unsettling (and all too possible) at the time, it has since become something of a cult classic. At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, MGM announced plans to remake the movie and set stunt co-ordinator and second unit director Dan Bradley to helm. The idea was to shoot the film in 2009 with a view to release in November 2010. For the lead role of Jed Eckert, Bradley cast the relatively unknown (at that point) Chris Hemsworth, based on footage he had seen of his work in Cabin in the Woods (another MGM flick). Josh Peck, signed on to play Jed's brother Matt, and was joined by Josh Hutcherson, (who has since gone on to star in The Hunger Games) and Friday Night Lights alumni Adrianne Palicki. Kurt Russell was said to be up for playing the role of downed-pilot Lt. Col Tanner, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan would ultimately take on the job. The plot would follow that of the original quite closely, but substitute an invading Russian army for a Chinese one - something that  would become the cause of much criticism during the film's production. Shooting took place as planned in late 2009 and photos of Chinese propaganda posters from the set soon showed up online. Apart from the 'enemy' controversy, filming went smoothly and everything started to come together for the 2010 release date.

A rediscovered joy: Why Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2 was one of the best movie-going experiences in years...

It's probably my favorite movie-going moment of 2012. There is a scene towards the end of the final Twilight Saga picture (vague spoilers...) where two sets of enemies meet on a snow covered hill, both prepared to do battle if necessary. At one point, one of those on the side of the Cullens charges towards the head of the evil Volturi clan (Michael Sheen) as the fiendish leader stands his ground. Without going into spoiler details, the two foes meet and briefly skirmish in mid-air, before both sides crash to the ground. One of them stands tall and smirks as we realize that (highlight to reveal) Aro is holding the detached head of a major character in his hands. At which point, the audience absolutely exploded with horror and tittering shock, blowing the walls off the auditorium with a deafening shriek and following it with nervous giggling (this was *not* how it happened in the book and the audience now knew all bets were off). At which point, I smiled even wider, impressed both by the apparent chutzpah on display and the audience's reaction, and said to myself "This* is why I go to the movies!".

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dinner with a Movie: Thoughts on new Cinépolis theaters...

As I mentioned in my last Skyfall essay, one of the reasons my wife and I ended up seeing Skyfall the other night (her first viewing, my second) was to try out a new Cinépolis theater that just opened relatively near us. The gimmick behind this somewhat new chain is simple: It's a movie theater with extra-large reclining leather chairs and a full-service dining menu and a wait staff that tends to your needs during the picture.  It's been in its current 'VIP' form in Mexico since 1999 and has quickly made its debut in California over the last year or so.  It's not the first of its kind to open as Gold Class Cinemas has been operating in Pasadena since December 2009.  I was actually planning on making a trip down there back when it opened but life got in the way (my daughter had the 'stay home from school sniffles' pretty much the entire holiday break period).  After David Poland panned the place I lost enthusiasm for trying it.  Three years later, with a new chain and a location almost right next door, I finally got a crack at what amounts to 'dinner with a movie'.  The verdict?  Well, it's a gorgeous theater and the chairs as comfortable as all heck.  I wish the screen was a little bigger, but the projection and sound were flawless and once again I was reminded of how blindly beautiful The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey looks while trying to gin up interest in actually seeing it.  And the food is actually pretty good, although a bit overpriced even by movie theater standards.  But the experience feels less like actually seeing a film in a theater and more like the very best possible variation of watching a film at home.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Rise of the Guardians (2012) is a stunning disappointment, with little substance, no character.

Rise of the Guardians
97 minutes
rated PG

by Scott Mendelson

Rise of the Guardians is an astonishing exercise in generic storytelling, with so little new to bring to the narrative plate that even a morsel of good ideas can't save it from tedium.  I can't speak to the source material, but the film amounts to a high concept idea ("What if the various holiday mascots formed a superhero group?") where no more imagination was offered after the initial pitch.  The story is basically a Mad Libs team-superhero origin story, where we follow a new recruit into a new world and learn the mythology through his eyes.  That the story shamefully rips off the first X-Men is less of a problem than the heroic cohorts having almost no discernible characteristics beyond their costumes and holiday-related duties.  With paper-thin characterization and no real surprises in the offering, Rise of the Guardians amounts to a mostly dull effort that diminishes both big-budget animation and superhero stories at the same time.

Weekend Box Office (11/18/12): Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 scores $141m while Lincoln impresses with $21m.

The Twilight Saga ended as it began, kicking James Bond's ass to the curb with a massive opening weekend.  The fifth and final Twilight film debuted with $141 million over the weekend.  That's a touch higher than the $138 million debut of Breaking Dawn part 1 and just under the $142 million opening of New Moon over this weekend in 2011 and 2009 respectively, but we're still talking the kind of consistency that the Saw franchise would envy.  There are just ten films that have opened above $135 million and three of them are Twilight films.  Twilight 2, 4, and 5 now holds the 7th, 9th, and 8th biggest opening weekend respectively. Yes it was possible that Breaking Dawn part 2 (review/essay) would get a sort of series finale-bump over opening weekend, but in retrospect it was not entirely realistic.  This series frankly only plays to the fans at this point, with even casual fans coming out on opening weekend.  This isn't a series like Harry Potter, where fans who maybe missed an entry or two along the way and/or saw the prior films in theaters later in their respective runs rushed out to catch the finale on opening weekend.  If you wanted to see the newest Twilight, you were probably a hardened fan who absolutely ventured out on opening weekend every time.  So yeah, this isn't a series that gained new fans after the second installment so there wasn't much room for growth even for this caper (it played 79% female and 50% over 25 years old).  There also isn't much to discuss in terms of domestic totals.  The series has infamously short legs, and so it's probable that the picture did 50% of its business already.  So let's presume a $285-295 million domestic total.  Worldwide, the film has already grossed $340 million globally putting it on track to equal the over/under $700 million totals of the last three pictures.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fail after Fail: Thoughts on Skyfall upon a second viewing.

Spoiler Warning is in place, but my non-spoiler review is HERE...

For reasons mostly involving time and other responsibilities, before last night I hadn't seen a film twice in theaters since June 2008.  Even that last occasion was merely a matter of happenstance, as my father was in town and he hadn't seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yet.  I grew up with the Lucasfilm universe, so it seemed only appropriate, and a good time was had.  Anyway, last night I saw Skyfall for a second time, as my wife was unable to attend last month's press screening and we had a free evening (it was also about trying out a new theater, but that's the next essay).  Unfortunately a second viewing only heightened the film's major flaws.  Even my wife, who hadn't read my review yet, whispered to me around thirty-minutes in and said "We get it, Bond is *old*!" after which we proceeded to take a pretend shot every time someone made a reference to age or old vs. new.  By the hour mark, we both had pretend alcohol poisoning.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Now You See Me gets a snazzy, stylish trailer.

This one is near the top of my 'must see' list for 2013, if only for the cracker-jack premise (a team of stage magicians commit grand larceny right in the middle of their shows) and the terrific cast (Jessie Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, etc.).  So I was happily surprised to get a peak during last night's Breaking Dawn showing.  The trailer itself feels a little rushed and edited somewhat chaotically, but it's also relatively spoiler-free, so that's a plus.  And for those wondering who would narrate a trailer for a film that stars both Michael Caine *and* Morgan Freeman, apparently Freeman won out.  Personally, if I were Summit Entertainment, I would have cut two trailers with both actors respectively narrating.  But no matter, this looks like oodles of fun and I was a little disappointed when it got pushed back to the heart of summer, however much that speaks to the film's alleged quality.  It will also speak to just what kind of film Louis Leterrier can make in America when he isn't being screwed over in post production, as happened on The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans. Now You See Me opens on June 7, 2013.  As always, we'll see, but I'm still very much looking forward to this one.

Scott Mendelson  

Midnight box office: Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 earns $30.4 million in Thursday 10pm and 12:01am showings.

The bad thing about the incredibly consistency of The Twilight Saga is how little there is to add when the box office numbers come rolling in.  This fifth and final installment racked up another $30.4 million in midnight and Thursday 10pm showings.  Now on one hand, it's right in line with the $30.25 million that Breaking Dawn part I earned at midnight and the $30.1 million that Eclipse snagged 2.5 years ago at midnight.  It's also a token uptick from the $26 million that New Moon earned at 12:01am this weekend back in 2009.  On the other hand, one has to wonder what effect the 10pm showings had on the figures.  It would seem that they had little effect, as there weren't too many people such as myself who are too old to do midnight showings but can handle a 10pm screening.  Anyway, what this means is that we may not be seeing much of a 'series finale' uptick as might have been expected.  Point being, we're looking at a debut between $138 million and $166 million, depending on if it was as frontloaded as Breaking Dawn part I (likely - 21% of the weekend gross at midnight) vs. New Moon (unlikely, - 18% of the weekend gross at midnight - save for potential repeat viewing over the weekend by uber hardcore fans).  Of course, presuming there is no finale bump and the film is even more frontloaded, then we're looking at 23% of the gross already accounted for with around $132 million for the weekend.  If it ends up as frontloaded as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II (25% of its weekend at midnight), then Twilight 5 ends the weekend with $121 million.  No matter where it lands in this spectrum, The Twilight Saga goes out with its financial head held high.

Scott Mendelson

Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part II (2012) finishes the franchise on a relative high note.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2
110 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

As a would-be series finale, the biggest problem with Breaking Dawn part 2 is that  it really doesn't feel like the end of anything, nor does it feel like a natural stopping point.  This is not a finale in the vein of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, where the series-long conflict is brought to a definitive end and the characters end in places from which they can not go back.  Nor is it akin to Back to the Future III, which attempts to bring its narrative full-circle and finish the specific story that it has been telling while leaving the door open for more adventures down the line.  The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2 basically plays like just another chapter in the lives of its main characters, one that qualifies as the end purely because the author of the original novels, Stephenie Myer, decided to stop.  The story does continue the adventures of Bella, Jacob, and the Cullen vampire clan, offering a completely new conflict at the end of its first act purely to actually have a conflict at all.  Obviously this is a source material problem, but don't expect the 'this is the end!' goosebumps that you got during the opening reels of Return of the King.  As merely a Twilight film, it's not half-bad.  If only by default, it's the best Twilight sequel and comes the closest to the irreverent shaggy dog charm of Catherine Hardwicke's original installment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Paramount attaches Star Trek Into Darkness IMAX sneak to The Hobbit, screws over Warner Bros. yet again.

Paramount just loves using IMAX to screw with Warner Bros.  For the third time, Paramount has put Warner Bros. in a somewhat awkward position.  As you recall, three years ago a scheduling conflict between Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince left the sixth Harry Potter picture without IMAX screens for the first two weekends of its run.  The loss certainly didn't hurt the box office much (HP6 was the first HP sequel to cross $300 million domestic), but it was an embarrassing scheduling snafu.  This time last year Warner Bros somewhat shot itself in the foot by allowing the IMAX preview for The Dark Knight Rises to premiere in front of 'true IMAX' prints (about 40 screens) of Paramount's Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol even as the film opened in limited IMAX release against Warner Bros' Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows.  Again, no real harm, no real foul, although the fourth M:I picture got tons of free publicity that otherwise would have gone to Sherlock Holmes 2 had *it* been the only place to see new The Dark Knight Rises footage.  Warner Bros did Paramount a favor last year and it seems that it's payback time.  Ironically said payback will end up hurting Warner Bros yet again. 

God help me, I'm actually enjoying Elementary...

Despite my best efforts to stay above the fray, I must now admit that I'm actually becoming a fan of CBS's new 'Sherlock Holmes in New York' crime drama Elementary.  I know I'm supposed to take pot-shots at the show and blab about how it's a shameless attempt to cash in on the success of BBC's Sherlock.  But the show has, if anything, gone out of its way to differentiate itself from the brooding series that turned Benedict Cumberbatch into a mega-star/sex-symbol.  I remarked back when the first extended trailer appeared that the show felt less like a riff on Sherlock and more like a rip-off of Tony Shalhoub's Monk.  That's still the case, but it's quickly become an arguably superior version of the briefly great but mostly terrible USA comedy.  Loyal viewers will recall that the show's first two seasons were delightful until the writers/producers amped up the farce and started treating Monk like a man-child who was completely unfamiliar with how the outside world actually functions.  The key to the show's appeal is two things it shares with the title character: a genuine intelligence and a general lack of unnecessary sentiment.

Yet another "next Twilight", The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, gets a surprisingly solid trailer.

At the very least, this looks a lot better than The Host.  Yes we're seeing what amounts to Underworld or Blade told from the point of view of the Scott Speedman/N'Bushe Wright character, but it still *looks* good.  The production values seem solid, with some genuinely creepy imagery and promises of more than one action scene.  Having Jared Harris narrate your trailer never hurts, nor is advertising his supporting role.  There are some decent character actors hidden behind the (presumably) star-crossed lovers (Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower), including CCH Pounder and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  Of course, the best-cast of the various attempted Harry Potter cash-ins (Percy Jackson Etc Etc) turned out to be the worst, so that may mean little.  Of the three "next great young-adult literary film franchise" sneak peaks we've seen thus far, I'm partial to this one.  For what it's worth, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones opens August 23, 2013.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Twilight Saga comes to an end in John Gosling's weekend movie preview.

This weekend, after only four years, the Twilight saga comes to a close with the release of Breaking Dawn Part 2.  Based on the books by Stephenie Meyer, it has become a global phenomenon, creating its own literary sub genre with many imitators (the multi-million selling 50 Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction). Primarily, the series concerns the romance between 17 year old Bella Swan and the eternally youthful vampire, Edward Cullen. Like Harry Potter, the series has also spawned all manner of related (and not so related) merchandise, along with gaining a fervent fan base. The first book, Twilight, had not been an easy sell for Meyer, and had been rejected a number of times before securing a publishing deal with Little, Brown and Company, who paid $750K as part of a three book deal (LBC originally offered $300K, Meyer had wanted $1M). Published in October 2005, the initial print run of 75,000 sold out, and the book debuted at number five on the New York Times Best Seller's list within a month of its release and would eventually reach the top spot. In September of 2006, a follow up was released, entitled New Moon. Like its predecessor, the book was incredibly successful, selling out of its entire 100,000 hardback print run and making the top spot on the USA Today best sellers list (as well as the NY Times one again). 

The newest 'next Twilight', The Host, gets a trailer.

Always be weary of any trailer where all of the action beats seem to come from the same scene.  As such we can presume that most of the budget went towards the daylight car chase that is highlighted several times throughout.  Otherwise, this trailer both reveals much of the narrative (at least the first half of the film) while revealing a relatively thin story.  Still, Saorise Ronan is worth seeing in pretty much anything, while old-pros like William Hurt and Francis Fisher will hopefully bring gravitas.  What's interesting is that while the likes of The Hunger Games, the Twilight Saga, and even the Harry Potter franchise were films born of many cooks (the original novelist, the screenwriter(s), and the director), The Host is both an adaptation of a Stephenie Meyer novel but a film written and directed by Andrew Niccol.  The source material is of course right in his grind house, so my biggest qualm with the trailer is that it all looks rather dull. Anyway, The Host opens on March 29th, 2013.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Only James Franco can save the dames in second trailer for Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Pretty much the same as the first teaser.  This thing looks pretty spectacular, and I can see where the $200 million went.  But the dialogue is painfully on-the-nose, the acting feels oddly stilted, and the narrative seems to center around a bunch of magical women who are helpless against the tyranny of a wicked witch until a random man arrives to save their ass.  One presumes that at least Rachel Weisz is revealed to be villainous and one hopes that the story ends on a somewhat somber note, as befitting Oz's somewhat crooked role in the classic Wizard of Oz story.  Still, what's being sold is a Mad Libs 'random white man must save us' story that made John Carter and Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake so dull, complete with the likes of Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams (plus possibly Abigail Spencer) treating Franco's clearly hapless visitor as the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The film may be more complicated than that, and I'd argue the talent involved implies that it may well work out.  But the film that Disney is selling is painfully derivative, arguably far more of a rip-off of Burton's Alice In Wonderland (which was of course a 'random white woman must save us, without the pre-adolescent fantasy present here) than any of the would-be copycats that we've seen over the last 2.5 years.  Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful opens March 8th, 2013.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson        

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Essay: Dana Shaffer on how Brave fails at feminism.

Friend and colleague Dana Shaffer wrote this terrific piece back when Brave first arrived in theaters.  Since I had already had my say on the film, I thought it best to wait until the film arrived on DVD/Blu Ray, which it does today.  Long-story short, this whole piece elaborates on ideas that I merely acknowledged in my review.  So do enjoy.

Does Brave give us the Disney princess we’ve all been waiting for? 
The film recycles a familiar tale, with a few misguided twists

By Dana Shaffer

Brave is the story of Merida, a bow-and-arrow wielding princess, with attitude, gobs of personality and more interest in pursuing her own ambitions than marriage. It sounds like a dream come true for many who have longed for a princess story with more of a plot arc than meeting a man and falling in love.

But let me give you a quick synopsis of the film (complete with spoilers, be warned):

It is the story of a vibrant and sassy redheaded teenage princess who doesn't quite fit in. She has an unusual hobby that her particularly strict parent does not approve of. During a nasty fight one day, the very strict parent destroys the daughter’s most beloved possession in a fit of rage. The parent instantly feels regret, but the damage is done. The rebellious redhead runs away. The girl seeks help from a witch, who gives her a spell that will change her destiny. But unless she fulfills a mission within a few days, the spell will turn very, very bad. After a series of inconsequential “fish out of water” scenes, the daughter must face the consequences of the spell, and her parent’s life is put in danger. The princess is rescued from peril, and in the end, the parent decides to let the daughter win the initial argument and have her way.

So that’s a bare bones plot synopsis of Brave. But perhaps it sounded familiar to you. Read it again, but this time think a little less moors of Scotland and a little more “Under the Sea.” Yep. Brave, whether it knows it or not, borrows heavily from the structure of The Little Mermaid. Of course there are some vast differences between the narratives. And perhaps in a world that recycles fairy tales and fables over and over, it’s not a big deal. But it lends some interesting ways to compare the two princesses.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Despite Skyfall's regressive sexual politics, Bond Girls have been "Bond Women" since, oh... 1987.

Spoiler warning for Skyfall (non-spoiler review HERE)...

As happens every time a new 007 film opens, pundits and critics are generally quick to point out how this new 007 picture has one of the very best 'Bond girls' ever.  Oh this time she's strong, independent, able and willing to hold her own with James Bond, and not merely there to be a sex object.  So if critics pretty much say that nearly every time, at what point do we have to acknowledge that the meme of the helpless and useless Bond Girl is mostly a myth.  To put it simply, many of the so-called Bond Girls were, if not champions of feminism, presented as mostly capable and independent characters who happened to be obscenely attractive and (often improbably) attracted to Mr. James Bond.  From Dr. No onward to Skyfall, the hapless sex object who exists purely to be ogled and bedded is more exception than rule.  And quite frankly, over the last 25 years (or after Roger Moore left), almost every major 'Bond Girl' was a relatively well-developed character or at least played an important role in the story.  Ironically, perhaps in a misguided attempt to appease the fans, the treatment of women in Skyfall is actually comparatively regressive.  In short, it takes the series back to a certain misogynistic mindset that hasn't been prevalent since the Connery years.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Box Office (11-11-12): Skyfall opens with $90 million while Lincoln earns $900k on 11 screens.

Opening with a flurry of positive buzz and already-cemented megahit status overseas, James Bond finally returned to US theaters this weekend with San Mendes's Skyfall (review 01/review 02).  The film easily crushed the opening weekend record of the 007 series, earning a massive $90 million in its debut.  This also includes $2.2 million earned via its Thursday IMAX-only release, as the film earned $13.1 million in IMAX theaters since Thursday (the large-scale format's biggest non-summer opening ever).  The picture played 60% male and 75% over 25-years old. For comparison, the last six 007 films had the six biggest weekends of the franchise, with Pierce Brosnan's GoldenEye moving 007 into modern-day blockbuster territory back in 1995.  For the record, the numbers are $26 million (GoldenEye), $25 million (Tomorrow Never Dies), $35 million (The World Is Not Enough), $47 million (Die Another Day), $40 million (Casino Royale), and $67 million for Quantum of Solace four Novembers ago. Not only is this the biggest opening weekend for the 007 series by a long shot, it eclipsed the opening weekends of all but the last four series entries by the end of Friday (if you want to play the inflation card, it still eclipsed the openings of all-but the last six entries by the end of Friday). Even though the overall consensus on Quantum of Solace was mediocre, four years of waiting but an ability to market Skyfall using the whole "50 years of Bond" angle made this one just as much of an event, if not more so, than the last few entries.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Friday Box Office: Skyfall does $33 million on opening day (s).

Oddly enough, despite the four years of hype and anticipation, plus the IMAX sneak-peak and respective price bump, Skyfall earned just a bit more than Quantum of Solace on its first Friday.  With $33 million in the bag (including its $2.2 million Thursday IMAX sneak day), it's just above the $27 million debut for Quantum of Solace.  Adjusted for inflation and the IMAX price bump, it barely sold more tickets.  On the plus side, this new entry is likely to have much better word of mouth and thus insure a larger multiplier both for the weekend and for the long-game.  I don't have much time so I'm going to make this quick.  The weekend multiplier comparisons are the last six 007 films, basically everything since 1995 when Pierce Brosnan kicked the films into the blockbuster age with GoldenEye back in 1995.  GoldenEye debuted with $26 million off a $8 million* opening day (3.25x) while Tomorrow Never Dies earned $8 million* on its first day heading towards a $25 million debut (3.125x).  The World Is Not Enough earned $12 million towards a $35 million opening (2.9x) while Die Another Day opened with $16 million towards a $47 million opening weekend (2.9x).  Casino Royale opened with $14 million and closed Sunday with $40 million (2.85x) while Quantum of Solace debuted with $27 million and closed the weekend with $67 million ($74 million adjusted for inflation and a 2.4x weekend multiplier).  Thus assuming the mostly disliked Quantum of Solace was a fluke (it dropped a bit on Saturday) but acknowledging a more front-loaded marketplace, we're looking at something between 2.6x and 2.9x for the weekend.  Thus Skyfall could open with between $86 million and $95 million for the weekend.  Obviously we'll know for sure tomorrow...

Scott Mendelson

*The opening days for GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies are estimates based on my recollection, as I can't find opening day figures.  Alas ShowbizData doesn't allow you to dig into their daily box office archives.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Les Miserables trailer continues to bring the awesome...

If this thing is even half as good as it looks, if the 'singing on location' is half as effective in the film as it is in the marketing materials, if it's even half as powerful and soaring as its source material... Anyway, enough hyperbole, you have now idea how disappointed I am at having to wait an extra twelve days to see this thing, unless I'm lucky enough to get an invite to the first wave of screenings (which start up November 24th, natch).  So yeah, this dropped a day or two ago but I waited until we got an official HD version that actually was worth savoring.  So savor away.  The only qualm is the lack of billing for Samantha Barks even while relative nobody Eddie Redmayne gets his moment during the roll-coll.  Nonetheless, Les Midersables opens on Christmas Day and I can't friggin wait.

Scott Mendelson

IMAX and midnight box office: Skyfall has $4.6 million so far. Can 007 top $100 million for the weekend?

While I am all in favor of major films doing advance IMAX-only releases, MGM and Sony's decision to open Skyfall a day early in IMAX makes the numbers a little tougher to analyze.  For the record, the 23rd official James Bond adventure earned $2.2 million on Thursday playing in 463 IMAX engagements.  The only real plausible comparison is Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol which opened five days early on 425 IMAX screens and earned $4.1 million on its first Friday of such play.  In addition, Skyfall earned another $2.4 million in wide-release midnight showings (a large chunk of its 3,500 screens), bringing its gross to $4.6 million before 'regular business hours'.  That extra day of IMAX-only play, along with the fact that Monday is a holiday for most schools and many businesses, makes the math a little more speculative, but no one said this is an exact science, so let's dive in!  

Guest (mini) Review: Brandon Peters reviews Skyfall (2012)

143 minutes
Rated PG-13

By Brandon Peters

Skyfall switches gears for Daniel Craig’s third dabbling in the role of 007.  The film is akin to GoldenEye’s answer to License to Kill if comparing to the series cannon.  While not going too far over the top, Skyfall does jump over the limits set by its two predecessors and enters into more familiar and common Bond territory.  This is going to be rather brief in terms of what I’ve been writing; Scott has covered a lot of ground I may have covered  as I didn’t read his review until after my viewing.  And for the most part I agree with all his points.  I’d rather not cover the same ground twice (editor's note: there's plenty new to chew on here). I don’t seem to mind the borrowing from other films especially when they are actually enhancing the themes and devices and making stronger renditions of them.  One theme not brought up which I felt was more front and center than the revised GoldenEye was trust and learning to deal with trying not to take judgment calls for the greater good personally.

Brad Pitt's World War Z gets a big-scale trailer.

There is some great and terrifying imagery in this extended teaser.  Truth be told, aside from animation and the occasional 'hang out with your friends' Oceans picture, Brad Pitt hasn't done a full-scale commercial blockbuster of this nature since the one-two punch of Troy and Mr. and Mrs. Smith way back in 2004/2005.  We all know that the film has went through hell, from a completely rewritten by Damon Lindelof third act (because he's totally a master of the third act, right?) to rumors that Pitt and director Marc Forster aren't on speaking terms, but what we see here looks perfectly competent and rather grand (it's obvious they are trying to make arguably the first epic zombie picture).  The film seems to be almost hiding the fact that it's a zombie film, although anyone with half a zombie brain will release that the swiftly-moving antagonists are likely very-much undead.  Will it be good?  I have no idea, but viewed in a vacuum  this is a pretty effective, if overly spoiler-ish clip.  Just in terms of spelled-out storytelling, it basically reveals the narrative course of the first act, if not the first two acts, of the movie.  Still, it's heartening to release that the 'Pitt and his family are trapped in a poorly lit, cheap to film in interior location' bit seems to happen pretty early on.  Anyway, the $180 million World War Z opens June 21, 2013.  As always, we'll see, but what are your thoughts?  Obviously if you've read the source material feel free to add to the discussion.

Scott Mendelson        

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012) is a mostly engrossing, richly moral inside-baseball political drama.

145 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

In terms of long-gestating passion projects, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (trailer/background) is much closer to Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd than Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York.  In what may qualify as irony, the film is slightly undone mostly by its perceived duty to be incredibly important.  Yes, the film is about an very important person (Abraham Lincoln) during what may arguably be the most important portion of his life (his month-long battle to bring about a constitutional end to slavery), but Spielberg's refreshingly micro-targeted biopic is at its best when it is lightest on its feet, telling what almost amounts to a political caper set at the end of the Civil War. Tony Kushner's literate and thoughtful screenplay (based on a portion of Doris Kearns Goodwin's A Team of Rivals) stages what amounts to a 1860s-set series arc from The West Wing, as a wise president blessed with verbal diarrhea articulates grand ideas and espouses telling anecdotes while those on his staff do the political dirty work to make great things happen. As a look into how politics worked in the mid-1800s, and of course how it still works today, it's surprisingly funny and endlessly compelling.  But the need to create a defining portrait of our sixteenth president creates both needlessly solemn subplots and some narrative repetition that prevents true greatness.    

Skyfall spoiler discussion thread...

If you're among the lucky ones who have a nearby IMAX theater, today is the opening day for Skyfall.  As such, here is the official place for readers who want to gab about the film, spoilers-and-all, to their heart's content.  I may have a spoiler piece on Monday or Tuesday while I'm hoping Brandon Peters gets a chance to see the film this week and deliver a review, but that's depending on his schedule.  But for the meantime, have at it below, folks.  If you've seen it, what did you think?  Did it live up to the hype?  Did it work for you as well if not better than it worked for me?  While you're hopefully gabbing below, check out this well-written piece that serves as somewhat of a rebuttal to my review.  I'm actually going to probably see the film again a week from Friday, as my wife couldn't make the press screening (making it the first film since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that I've seen twice in a theater).  But I'm rambling and it's your turn to ramble.  I'm off to write my Lincoln review for tomorrow.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Review: Amber Alert (2012) should be forced to register...

Amber Alert
80 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

It is popular to bag on the 'found footage genre' as a whole while ignoring that it's not really a genre.  For better or worse, 2012 is the year that found footage truly became a tool that could be used to tell a wealth of stories in a different fashion.  Found footage, by which the story is told from the point of view of someone videotaping 'as it happens' events, is neither good nor bad.  It is a filmmaking choice that can be applied for good (Chronicle) or evil (The Devil Inside).  But one thing a found footage film must do above all else is present the idea of seeing something interesting.  The low-tech intimacy of video footage filmed as if it were a home movie presents a certain authenticity, as anyone who jumped at the fleeting glimpse of an alien figure stalking a random kid's birthday party in Signs can tell you.  But you have to be in a position to actually deliver on something worth seeing.

Skyfall (in wide release) vs. Lincoln (in limited release) in the weekend movie preview.

Skyfall is the 23rd James Bond film, and the third to feature Daniel Craig as super spy 007. Craig began his run with the 2006 release Casino Royale, having taken over from Pierce Brosnan. After finishing up work on Die Another Day, Brosnan was unsure if he would return a fifth time as he feared he would begin to be compared to Roger Moore's older turn as Bond, which had proved unpopular with some fans. Despite this, the public were still supportive of him playing Bond again and negotiations began early 2004 for Brosnan to reprise the role. But by the middle of that year, amid rumors that MGM/EON had hinted they were looking for a younger actor to play Bond (something they denied at the time), Brosnan announced he wasn't coming back. Rumors continued to persist until February 2005, when the star publicly announced he was finished with the character. The search for a new James Bond was on. While many names were bandied about, including Eric Bana, James Purefoy and Clive Owen (who clashed over contract details), it was Daniel Craig who was triumphant. In comparison to others mentioned, Craig was something of an unknown, having made his name on stage, rather than screen, though he had had a number of prominent roles before coming to Bond, including the first Tomb Raider movie, Road to Perdition and Layer Cake, the flick  rumored to have been an influence on him getting the Bond gig. EON officially announced the actor as the new James Bond in October 2005, and while public support wasn't overwhelming, each of the previous Bond players voiced their approval.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A kingdom with no ruler: The current animation landscape...

For the second year in a row, Pixar will not have anything close to the best animated film of the year and will not have the highest-grossing animated film of the year, not worldwide anyway. This is not a rant to bag on Pixar, as they will be fine (I'm optimistic that they are merely experiencing growing pains) and I'm more curious to examine what the animation field looks like without an uncontested leader. The critical disappointments of the likes of Cars 2 and Brave along with the lack of any guaranteed masterpieces for a little while puts Pixar in a position where it's now just 'one of the guys'.  Disney has been trying to reclaim its once-uncontested title, but it too now sits in a position where it's 'just one of the gang', as there is no guarantee that the likes of Wreck It Ralph will even out-gross The Lorax domestically (worldwide, Tangled was the first Disney toon to top $350 million since Tarzan back in 1999).  Critically, Disney has not had an out-and-out gem since Meet the Robinsons back in 2007, where it was matched by Pixar's Ratatouille.  So the question becomes what does the animation landscape look like when neither Disney or even Pixar is the uncontested king of the proverbial hill?  The answer is somewhat more exciting than you'd think.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Having your cake and eating it too: Discussing the somewhat troubling finale of Disney's Wreck It Ralph.

Spoiler warning... this whole essay is discussing end-of-film events of Disney's Wreck It Ralph.  Like in the first sentence, so beware!!!
When is a Princess Story not a Princess Story?  That's the question that's haunted both of Disney's major animated efforts this year.  While Brave has gotten raves elsewhere (not here) for focusing on a young woman who doesn't want to get married, the film is at its core a loose variation on The Little Mermaid save for the fact that said princess doesn't want a man quite yet.  But despite marketing efforts that focus exclusively on Ralph (John C. Reilly), Wreck It Ralph is actually a two-pronged narrative, telling what amounts to a buddy film in which both Ralph and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have their respective goals and desires.  The would-be glitch in the racing game Sugar Rush merely wants to race and be accepted for what she is, while Ralph merely wants a better life and for those in his game to understand that he's just playing a role, that he's not actually a villain.  The film's duel goals come to a head at the third act, when Ralph is informed by King Candy that if Vanellope races and wins, the compound effects will be the destruction of the game, the homelessness of its inhabitants, and the death of Vanellope, since as a glitch she would be left behind as the game cabinet is unplugged.  It's a stunningly powerful story turn, the idea that Ralph realizes that he must do something horrible (wreck Vanellope's race car and renounce her goals) in order to be 'the good guy'.  It's heroism in the Jack Bauer mold rather than the clear-cut heroism of, for example, Mr. Incredible.  But the film reverses itself almost as quickly, exposing said story turn as a fabricated lie and setting up Sugar Rush's ruler as a scheming villain who has brainwashed the citizens and denied Vanellope's true nature.  And what is Vanellope's true nature?  Why she's a princess of course!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend Box Office (11-04-12): Wreck It Ralph sets a Disney animation record while Flight soars to $25 million on just 1,844 screens.

The holiday season started off with a bang this weekend, with three major openers, all of which over-performed or opened within reasonable expectations.  If Wreck It Ralph's (review) estimate holds, it will have the biggest three-day debut for a non-Pixar Disney cartoon ever.  Believe it or not, a regular Disney toon has never opened at or above $50 million over a Fri-Sun period.  To be fair, The Lion King's $42 million debut back in June 1994 would equal around $75 million today and Tangled earned $48 million on the Fri-Sun portion of a $67 million five-day Thanksgiving opening.  Still, with $49.1 million, Wreck It Ralph managed to top every non-Pixar animated feature that has opened in this holiday kick-off spot save Madagascar 2's $63 million opening in 2008.  It opened higher than A Shark Tale in 2004 ($47 million), Chicken Little in 2005 ($40 million), Flushed Away in 2006 ($18 million), Bee Movie in 2007 ($38 million), A Christmas Carol in 2009 ($30 million), Megamind in 2010 ($45 million), and Puss In Boots in 2011 ($34 million over Halloween weekend and another $33 million over this weekend last year). Inflation and 3D-bumps aside, this is a strong debut for a rather crowd-pleasing cartoon that should play well for the rest of the month even with heavy competition in three weeks from Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians.  Like pretty much every major Disney cartoon since Bolt four years ago, this film is being touted as Disney's return to glory, but merely doing the numbers means that the Mouse House has a pretty big hit on their hands.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Review: Flight (2012) is generic and conventional would-be character study that never takes off.

140 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

That Robert Zemeckis's Flight does not resemble the film that is being advertised (trailer) it not in itself a crime.  Marketing is often a game of misdirection and, considering Zemeckis's reputation for spoiler-filled trailers, it's a little ironic that his return to live-action film making is advertised is such a bait-and-switch fashion.  But while I'll honestly admit that I would have preferred the film being advertised versus the film that was delivered, the core flaw of this well-acted Denzel Washington vehicle is that it's not a very compelling version of what it is.  In short it's *not* a character-driven mystery involving a plane crash and how exactly it went down and who or what was responsible.  It is simply a character study of a functioning alcoholic.  What grounds Flight is the fact that it's simple not a very good film about a functioning alcoholic, as several major narrative choices work to lessen our interest and emotional investment.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why the box office failure of Fun Size is actually good news.

Call it reason 3,214 why movies aren't dead.  As you all know, the Nickelodeon comedy Fun Size debuted in theaters last weekend with nary a peep. With just $4 million to its name by Sunday night, it was the 64th-lowest opening weekend for a wide release in history.  Why does any of this matter?  Well, precisely because it doesn't matter.  The film starred Victoria Justice, Jane Levy, and Chelsea Handler and was sold as "The Hangover for kids".  It was also yet another example of a female-centric comedy.  It bombed.  But you know what didn't happen?  You didn't hear hand-wringing about how a female-centric comedy tanked at the box office. You didn't see speculative essays about what the film's failure meant for the future of female-driven comedy in mainstream cinema.  Heck, I did not see one single article discussing even the fact that the film was in fact a female-centric comedy.  I've always said progress comes when you don't have to talk about it.  Well Fun Size bombed last weekend and nobody really cared.  I'd argue that is progress.


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