Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Indiana Jones blu-ray collection gets a trailer...

Not much to expound upon here, but Paramount will be releasing all four Indiana Jones films on blu-ray sometime this fall (probably in late September/early October, so they can do a secondary discount during the holidays).  All I can say is that the trailer above is unusual in that it outright hides most of the supporting cast of the last two pictures (no Sean Connery, no Shia LeBeouf, etc).  On the plus side, it doesn't skimp on footage from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull out of misplaced embarrassment.  Anyway, enjoy the above teaser. 

The Avengers gets one last trailer and it's... an improvement.

This is an improvement over the prior trailer and Superbowl ad purely because it actually has a few money shots and, for whatever reason, the footage looks more three-dimensional and 'film-like' than the comparatively flat ads thus far.  It's good that Black Widow actually gets stuff to do this time around, and I'm genuinely impressed with the Hulk footage (that close-up at the end of the 360 shot actually looks like Mark Ruffalo).  In terms of action, it still looks like we're looking at three key action sequences: the dick-measuring contest in a forest between Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, some kind of second-act incident at the Avengers headquarters (invasion or a Hulk freak-out I presume), plus the all-important climax where the Loki's army of robot things (I'm not hardcore enough to know what those flying bugs are) wage war on a single block of New York City.  The third act stuff looks solid, and I have to admit I'm pleased that we still don't know much about the nitty-gritty plot details, which is as it should be.  Yes, I still wish the film felt a big larger in scale, but if the film works as quality entertainment it will be a moot point.  Obviously you don't hire Joss Whedon for large-scale pyrotechnics, but for character development and quality dialogue, so we'll see if one outweighs the apparent lack of the other (I personally would rather have bad action in a good movie than vice-versa).  Point being, despite my comments yesterday about Disney's marketing making a negative impact, this trailer actually makes me more excited than I was yesterday, so that counts as a win.  Anyway, the film drops May 4th (although the UK gets it a week earlier) and as always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I hope Bully gets a XXX! NATO's John Fithian treats Harvey Weinstein like an adult, Weinstein responds like a bullying (and lying) child.

As part of the ongoing 'fall-out' of the documentary Bully getting slapped with an R for its profanity, Harvey Weinstein has threatened to leave the MPAA and/or release the film in theaters as 'unrated'.  In response, John Fithian wrote the following letter:


Dear Harvey,

The National Association of Theatre Owners partners with the MPAA in the rules and operations of the Classification and Ratings Administration. Exhibition representatives participated yesterday in the appeal of “Bully.” As you know, the appeals board voted to uphold the ratings board’s decision that the prevalence of harsh language in “Bully” warranted an “R” rating. In response, you released a statement criticizing the decision, and threatening to remove your company’s movies from the ratings process.

As the father of a nine-year-old child, I am personally grateful that TWC has addressed the important issue of bullying in such a powerful documentary. The filmmaker and especially the brave young people who participated in this project deserve our attention and respect. Nonetheless, I believe that your public response to the decision of the appeals board is unwise.

Surveys of America’s parents reflect their very strong concern with the use of harsh language in movies. The vast majority of parents surveyed have indicated that the type of language used in “Bully” should receive an automatic “R” rating. You ask us to ignore the preferences of America’s parents and our own ratings rules because of the merit of this movie. Yet were the MPAA and NATO to waive the ratings rules whenever we believed that a particular movie had merit, or was somehow more important than other movies, we would no longer be neutral parties applying consistent standards, but rather censors of content based on personal mores.

You recently released the award-winning movie “King’s Speech” and must know the language rules very well. You should not have been surprised at the rating for “Bully.”

I have nothing but tremendous respect for you and the work of TWC. Our industry is so much the better for your involvement. But if you decide to withdraw your support and participation in the rating system, and begin to release movies without ratings, I will have no choice but to encourage my theater owner members to treat unrated movies from The Weinstein Company in the same manner as they treat unrated movies from anyone else.

In most cases, that means enforcement as though the movies were rated NC-17 – where no one under the age of 18 can be admitted even with accompanying parents or guardians.

Thank you for your consideration of these thoughts. And the best of luck to you on Sunday.

Sincerely yours,

John Fithian
President & CEO

The Avengers gets a hilariously bad new poster, but provides marketing insights...

First and foremost, the photo-shopping on this poster is pretty terrible.  The proportions are off, Downey Jr's head is affixed on his body as poorly as the various male leads in that infamous Takers poster 2.5 years ago, and no one seems to be in the same scene (here's a great look at the various light-source issues).  And, just to annoy me, they went out of their way to make sure the lone female of the group is much shorter than anyone else in the poster.  Anyway, this one-sheet again sells the notion that the entire climactic battle scene (which seems to represent most of the film's action judging by the marketing thus far) takes place on a single street in downtown New York City.  More importantly, while director Joss Whedon has confirmed that the story will be somewhat Steve Rogers-centric, the marketing is (wisely or by decree) focusing on Tony Stark.  Not only is Robert Downey Jr. front-and-center on the poster, not only does he get top billing on the cast roll-call, but he actually gets his name BEFORE the title.  Anyway, Marvel/Disney is dropping a new trailer tomorrow.  I'm not sure why they aren't waiting nine days and attaching said trailer to prints of John Carter. That film will need what little help an Avengers trailer can provide on opening weekend.  But no matter, what are your thoughts on this particular piece of marketing?  Oh, and what are your thoughts on the news that the film will be titled The Avengers Assembled in the UK to avoid 'confusion' with The Avengers television series from the 1960s (edit - yeah, probably the infamous 1998 Avengers movie too)?

Scott Mendelson  

Pixar's Brave gets a terrific TV spot, which *should* be the end of their trailer campaign.

It's the music.  A gorgeous hymn set to images that sell the mythical and epic nature of the story, which makes this the best piece of marketing for the film yet.  Here's hoping Pixar just stops right now and doesn't reveal anything else.  They have the teaser, the full trailer, the extended scene, and this TV spot.  They are good to go at this point, so they might as well quit while they are ahead.  Brave opens on June 22nd, 2012.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weekend Box Office (02/26/12): Act of Valor scores big, Good Deeds opens low for Tyler Perry, while Wanderlust and Gone tank.

In yet another stupidly crowded weekend at the box office (in such a crowded marketplace where only one new release debuted on more than 2,200 screens), we had yet another solid surprise, as the low-budget Act of Valor topped the box office with a $24.4 million debut.  Relativity bought the $12 million production for  $13 million and then spent another $30-$40 million to market it.  Said marketing campaign highlighted the film's lone quirk - that it starred actual Navy Seals and allegedly presented a more accurate picture of how such soldiers conduct themselves in the battlefield (they also bought a couple Super Bowl ads and screened the crap out of the film all over the country prior to release).  Of course, such lofty attempts at realism didn't prevent a Perils of Pauline subplot (Roselyn Sanchez plays a kidnapped CIA operative who must be rescued by these manly men from torturous bad guys), but the marketing campaign certainly played on the idea that this film was more 'real' than the likes of Navy Seals.  The picture earned an A from Cinemascore, which means that audiences obviously didn't mind the fact that the real life Seals are better at killing people than the whole 'acting' thing.  As somewhat expected, it played best in regions that have military bases and places that certain parties dismissively refer to as 'fly-over country' (don't be that asshole).  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Review: Gone (2012) is a cheerfully absurd thriller that either toys with genre expectations or just makes no sense whatsoever.

95 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Gone is that strange sort of movie that actually grows in esteem when you look back on it and realize just how preposterous it really is.  The plot technically involves Amanda Seyfried as Jill, a young woman looking for her missing sister.  The twist being that she is absolutely sure that said sister (Emily Wickersham) has been abducted by the same serial murderer who kidnapped poor Jill and tossed her in a pit just over a year ago in a failed attempt to add her to his collection of corpses.  That's all the plot you need, as what follows is a surprisingly relentless and fast-paced investigation thriller that barely stops to take its breath until late in the third act.  While the events don't technically unfold in real time, there is such a propulsive forward momentum that the picture feels like a very low-budget, nothing-but-essentials variation on 24 meshed with Run Lola Run and an extended episode Busy Town Mysteries.  I wouldn't go so far as to cal Gone 'good', but I admired its just-the-facts pacing and, in hindsight, its rather ludicrousness plotting.

Read it and weep! The Phantom Menace is about to out-gross The Dark Knight! Or: What the onslaught on 3D reissues means for the all-time grossers list.

With just $1 million separating the two films, today or tomorrow is likely the day when one of the more reviled films in geek-ville, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, will surpass one of the more openly worshipped geek film in recent years, The Dark Knight, at the global box office.  As of Wednesday, Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace crossed $1 billion, becoming the eleventh film to do so and the first Star Wars film to cross said benchmark.  Obviously there is inflation and 3D price-bumps to figure, but just remember that The Phantom Menace's adjusted-for-inflation grosses from 1999 would equal about $664 million in domestic grosses alone (it earned $431 million in the summer of 1999, the second-largest grossing first-run film behind Titanic at that point).  And don't forget that a number of major fantasy films, chiefly the first three Star Wars films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, have had several theatrical releases since their initial respective debuts.  In the days before VHS became mainstream, it was not uncommon for popular films to show up repeatedly at a theater near you.  With the apparent consumer appeal of 3D-converted re-releases, we are seeing a return to what may be a revolving door atop the list of all-time box office champions.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Girl Power" animated films used to be 'no-big deal'. Why Pixar's Brave, and its feminist narrative, is not a step forward, but merely a course-correction.

I don't generally watch clips, let alone post them, for upcoming films.  I somewhat dislike the practice of releasing full-blown scenes of upcoming films, as it's purely spoiler material, plain and simple.  But I will make an exception, as posting the above clip gives me the opportunity to rant about something that came to mind about a month ago while I was on a Disney Cruise with the wife and kids. Point being, there will be any number of essays written over the next few months about how Pixar's Brave is some kind of groundbreaking picture because it has a female lead, a warrior princess no less.  It's story seems to involve a young girl who rebels against her family's expectations regarding his place in life as a girl in 1300s (?) Scotland (see the teaser and the trailer HERE and HERE).  That's fine.  The film looks gorgeous and I'm a sucker for Scottish music (Patrick Doyle is handling the scoring duties). Alas, I think it's frankly downright regressive that we view this film as a feminist breakthrough.  Quite simply, Disney released an animated film back in 1998 starring a female protagonist who rebelled against society's expectations of her.  Mulan was as much a feminist fable as Brave is selling itself as, and there wasn't nearly as much huffing-and-puffing about it at the time.

To hell with 3D, Skyfall becomes the first 007 film to go the IMAX route.

Not much to report beyond the news itself.  IMAX has announced that the Sam Mendes 007 picture Skyfall will debut day-and-day in 35mm and IMAX screens on October 26th, 2012 (in the UK) and November 9th, 2012 (in the US and elsewhere).  Back in the post-Avatar era, there was talk of Skyfall becoming the first 007 film to be released in 3D.  That seems to have been scuttled, which means that James Bond fans will be able to enjoy the next 007 entry in glorious IMAX 2D.  The Hollywood Reporter also notes that the highly successful pre-release IMAX sneak of Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol will indeed lead to more IMAX pre-releases of major titles, although no specific examples were offered (I'm betting Warner Bros. goes that route with Superman: Man of Steel if it's any good).  

There was also a promise of sorts from the company to do more 'fanboy-friendly' films alongside the animated fare, which doesn't seem like news to me, but oh well.  Also of note?  They are expecting big IMAX business for their one-week engagement of The Hunger Games starting March 23rd.  Point being, this is rather good news for 007 fans, as well as further evidence that IMAX, not 3D, is going to be the sign of big-budget prestige in the near future.  And if Sony makes good on their threat to charge theaters for Real-D 3D glasses in May, it could have a ripple effect throughout the 3D business overall.  I've long argued that the only thing stopping IMAX from making further inroads (and thus booking more titles at a time) is the shortage of available screens, but that will slowly become less of a concern over time.  To paraphrase the late Whitney Houston, I believe the IMAX is our cinematic future, the one thing (massive screens plus utterly surround sound) that home theaters cannot replicate. Anyway, share your thoughts below.  Does the IMAX move give you more confidence in Skyfall?  Does it make you want to see the film more?

Scott Mendelson        

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Just bleep the f*^#ing profanity! Why getting a PG-13 for Bully is more important than fighting the MPAA on its lone ironclad rule.

You can't have more than one 'f-word' in your movie and still get a PG-13.  There have been a few exceptions over the years, but generally it's one 'f-word' in a non-sexual context.  Anymore than that, and its an automatic R-rating.  We can debate the morality/practicality of that specific rule.  Hell, I'd probably agree with you that it's a silly arbitrary requirement, especially considering the sort of violent content that, thanks to the FEC's war on R-rated movies in 2001 (HERE), ends up in PG-13 movies.  But at the end of the day, it's one of the MPAA's few ironclad rules.  Thus I have little sympathy when Weinstein's films keep trying to skirt that 'one rule' and still attempt to get that PG-13.  Their new documentary Bully may indeed be must-see viewing for teenagers.  It may shed light on a major problem, affect the national conversation, and save lives.  But if Harvey Weinstein and director Lee Hirsch want that PG-13, they should just bleep out the offending f-words. Period. We may not like the rules, but those are the rules as they stand at the moment.

Fool me once... Ironically, the Wrath of the Titans trailer looks spectacular in 3D.

As you may recall, the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans became the whipping boy for lousy 3D-conversions after Warner Bros. hastily converted the 2D feature in order to cash in on the success of Avatar.  The film opened with over $60 million (mostly due to some terrific trailers) and eventually grossed nearly $500 million worldwide.  Alas, the picture was critically-slammed and took it extra-hard on the chin for some truly terrible 3D-conversion work, which was barely in evidence and served to only make the film so dark as to be occasionally unwatchable.  The Jonathan Liebesman-directed sequel, Wrath of the Titans, is being released March 30th.  Judging by the 3D version of the trailer, Warner Bros. doesn't plan on making the same mistake twice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pet Peeve of the day: Attention movie bloggers/writers - Stop spoiling unreleased films by discussing what does or doesn't happen in the sequel!

I don't mean to keep picking on John Carter, I really don't.  In fact, if nothing else, this article gives me an excuse to embed the above fan-made trailer (that Devin Faraci brought to my attention) which is not only a much better trailer than any of the official ones cut by Disney, but actually makes the movie look somewhat impressive.  But I am again discussing John Carter because I happened to scan the headline for an interview with an actor who stars in the picture.  I'm not going to name the actor/actress, but I will link to the piece out of fairness to the original writers over at the otherwise esteemed The Playlist.  Said headline (and article) contains what would arguably be considered a massive spoiler.  What does said actor reveal in the interview?  Well, merely that said thespian is indeed signed for a sequel or two to John Carter should the film's box office performance merit a sequel.  So, purely from the basis on that statement, we know that at least one of the major characters in John Carter does indeed live to see a sequel.

Blu Ray Review: Justice League: Doom (2012) is paint-by-numbers, lacks depth.

Justice League: Doom
77 minutes
rated PG-13
Available for OnDemand on February 21st, available to purchase on DVD or Blu Ray on February 28th.

by Scott Mendelson

I've complained before about the inexplicable need for the DC Animated Universe features to be so bloody short.  Only the anthology Green Lantern: Emerald Knights has run over 80 minutes and at least two (Batman: Year One and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) were barely an hour.  For whatever reason, the thirteen features since late 2007 have all hovered around the 75 minute mark, and it's almost always been a point of contention.  But this time around, that truncated running time has become a fatal flaw, as this loose adaptation of a 2000 Justice League of America arc ends up sacrificing the entire dramatic crux of the story.  All that's left, while not boring, is a rather route pure action tale with one large-scale set piece after another.  And by holding off the story's key reveal until near the end of the picture, the film ends up being a giant set-up to a plot twist 90% of the viewers will already know about, and the other 10% will be spoiled by the synopsis on the back of the box.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weekend Box Office (02/19/12): The Vow and Safe House fend off Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and This Means War.

It was yet another 'photo-finish' at the box office over this President's Day weekend, but as always, it's the hard numbers rather than the arbitrary rankings that matter.  But since we need to decide which movies to discuss first, in order we shall go!  For the moment, it appears that Safe House will top the charts in its second weekend after barely missing the top slot last weekend.  It grossed $23.9 million over the Fri-Sun weekend and $28 million over the holiday.  Safe House will have grossed $82 million by Monday, a rather huge total for Mr. Washington.  In just eleven days, Safe House is Washington's 7th-biggest grosser, out-grossing such films as Training Day ($76 million), Man On Fire ($77 million), and Unstoppable ($81 million).  Barring a complete collapse, Safe House should become Denzel Washington's fifth $100 million grosser over the next weekend, with an outside shot of eclipsing the $130 million gross of American Gangster, which is currently his top grosser.  While we can debate how much credit co-star Ryan Reynolds gets for this one (he certainly didn't hurt...), Safe House is already his fourth-biggest grosser and will likely out-gross Green Lantern's $116 million total in a few weeks.  I'm frankly shocked at the strong legs for this one, as it's certainly one of Washington's worst genre entries in a long career with a number of solid adult-skewing action pictures (it looks like it was shot through a puke filter and edited in a blender, plus the script is so generic it could have been written in a Mad Libs book).  Still, star-power is a rare thing these days, and Denzel Washington clearly has it.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

News Commentary - By Grabthar's Hammer, Dean Parisot to helm Red 2!

One of the great mysteries over the last decade or so is deducing why Dean Parisot hasn't made a half-dozen more movies since 1999.  The guy's second film, Galaxy Quest, is not only one of the best comedies of the last twenty-years but remains the best Star Trek movie ever made, bar none (ironically, there were actually a few elements from said parody that were cribbed with a straight face in the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot).  The film didn't become an out-and-out smash hit, partially due to a boycott of Dreamworks movies from Regal Cinemas at the time.  But his second film, the underrated and ahead-of-its-time Fun With Dick and Jane (yes, it's a remake, but its middle class family struggles with economic obsolescence was about three years two early) was the last live-action Jim Carrey film to crack $100 million in the US back in 2005.  And up until yesterday, Parisot has been relatively MIA.  Variety is reporting that Parisot has been hired to helm Red 2, the sequel to Summit Entertainment's surprisingly successful 'retired spies get back in the game' action comedy from late 2010.   

Friday, February 17, 2012

In a 'trash your last movie' era, why I'm glad that Pixar is defending Cars 2...

As a result of director Andrew Stanton and the various producers of John Carter are making the junket rounds this week, there has been opportunity to discuss what many pundits and critics feel was a rare Pixar whiff in Cars 2.  Producer Lindsey Collins, while speaking to Movieline's Jen Yamato, discussed both the film's critical reception and the fact that it was the first Pixar film not to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature since the inception of that category in 2001.  Without simply laying out the quotes (hence the link), she correctly states that there were a number of really solid animated films this year, that she believes that Cars 2 suffered from a kind of anti-Pixar backlash, and that director John Lasseter still loves the film.  I don't know if the film suffered from an anti-Pixar backlash (although expectations were that the film would be mediocre prior to press screenings), and I am personally not a fan of Cars 2.  But I personally am darn-happy to see the Pixar gang defending it against the critical onslaught.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Remember when the GOP tried to convince us that Barack Obama was The Joker? A chilling new report shows that they may have been right...

Remember this picture?  It popped up in the summer of 2008 as a piece of political propaganda, usually with a caption along the lines of 'Socialism!' or 'Audacity!'.  Alas, it turns out that the juxposition may be more accurate than anyone would have guessed four years ago.  There is a lengthy and seemingly well-researched article over at the London-based Bureau Of Investigative Journalism that states that, along with the widespread use of unmanned drones as a weapon to unilaterally target would-be terrorist targets, the Pentagon, under Obama's orders, has apparently been targeting not just the primary targets but those who first arrived on the scene, be they first responders or mourners.  The paragraph in question -

"But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children.  A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts."

So, why isn't The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a hit yet? Oh right...

This was posted as a comment elsewhere, but it touches on something I wanted to talk about, so I'm sharing it here too...
So as of last week, David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo crossed $100 million in the US and $100 million overseas, giving the film a current worldwide cume of $211 million.  Yet, what should be a terrific result for what is currently an endangered species, an R-rated, hyper-violent/sexual adult thriller, is in fact something of a disappointment.  Why is that?  Simple, it cost too much.  It shouldn't have cost $90 million, end of story. I don't care how good or bad it is, I don't care how polished it looks or how splashy the 007 title sequence is, it was a film with a limited theatrical audience and should have been budgeted as such. The lesson over the last few years is that adult genre fare, even R-rated fare, can thrive as long as they don't cost anymore than $45 million. Contraband cost $25 million. The Town cost $40 million. The Lincoln Lawyer cost $40 million. Limitless cost $27 million. The Grey cost $25 million. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a 2.5hr R-rated thriller that basically advertised that it wasn't appropriate for general moviegoers and had a limited international audience due to the fact they'd have to read subtitles just like the original, cost $90 million. Despite all of its negatives, it still grossed $100 million domestic off a $12 million Fri-Sun opening, showing genuine legs in a front-loaded marketplace even as a hyper-competitive January caused unexpected screen-bleeding.. But, because it cost $90 million, it will struggle to break even.  Sometimes, expectations be-damned, it's just about the math.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Bourne Desperation gets a teaser trailer...

The most striking thing about this teaser (which premiered late last week) is that it's in fact a variation on an old joke my wife and I used to do back when The Bourne Ultimatum came out five years ago.  It's no secret that I kinda hate The Bourne Ultimatum, finding it to be a dumbed-down, streamlined, crowd-pleasing remake of The Bourne Supremacy.  But the goofiest part of the picture is the revelation that Jason Bourne wasn't just a patient in the Treadstone program, no, he was also involved in an even more secret and devious organization: Blackbriar (which, to be fair, was I believe referenced offhand at the finale of The Bourne Identity)!  So if the fourth film ever came to fruition, we'd inevitably see the reveal of yet another uber-secret government-sanctioned wet-ops program.  "If you were horrified by Treadstone... if you were mortified by Blackbriar... then you will shit your pants when you learn about Bald Eagle!!"  Bourne: "Oh my god... you turned us into half-human/half-robot killing machines!"  Reanimated Clive Owen: "Look... what... they (loading-loading)... make (Error!  Error!) you give!"  Sadly that absurdest bit seems perilously close to fruition with this new teaser for The Bourne Redundancy.  

Dear genre filmmakers - If you want your surprise reveals to be surprising, don't make the opening credits the ultimate spoiler.

SPOILER warning - this post contains third-act spoilers for a handful of recent and not-so recent thrillers, including Safe House, which just opened on Friday.

I'm not going to go into too many details about Safe House, but I will say that it's such a painfully conventional thriller that it could have been written in a Mad Libs book.  If I crack that it would have possibly been a riveting thriller in 1988, that's not entirely an insult.  In 1988, the film would have seemed a little less boiler-plate and its now-standard political cynicism wouldn't have been quite as formulaic.  Moreover, the picture likely would not have been shot with a puke-filter over the camera and wouldn't have been edited within an inch of its life, rendering its shoot-outs and fight scenes incomprehensible.  It's not especially more violent or action-packed than something like Andrew Davis's The Package (another genre entry that also somewhat deals with getting a dangerous prisoner from point A to point B), but the moments of action and violence were cleanly shot and coherently edited.  But its most frustrating element is something that has been a problem for decades.  Like so many thrillers over the last 20-30 years, a large chunk of the tension in Safe House depends on trying to uncover which of the alleged good guys may actually be a bad guy.  And like so many genre entries of late, the would-be mystery is anything but mysterious due to some inexplicably obvious casting.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekend Box Office (02/12/12): Everybody wins as The Vow breaks records, Safe House opens huge, Journey 2 best Journey 1, and Phantom Menace 3D feels the Force.

Wow.  Just wow.  Four major releases debuted this weekend and every single one of them opened with superb numbers.  On one hand, that means that every respective demographic was ably served this weekend.  On the other hand, one can only wonder how much cash was sacrificed by opening these four movies on the same weekend.  Anyway, the top film of the weekend was the Rachel McAdams/Channing Tatum romantic drama The Vow.  The $30 million Screen Gems drama, which by the way is NOT based on a Nicholas Sparks novel (it's a true story), debuted with an eye-popping $41 million, a record for the studio.  That's well-over $10 million more than the $30.4 million debut of Dear John, which was the previous record-holder for an opening weekend for a pure romantic drama.  The film played 55% under-25 years old and 72% female.  Obviously everything clicked on the marketing for this one, and Channing Tatum is now the official king of the romantic drama, having headlined the first one to open with more than $30 million and now the first one to open with over $40 million, while Rachel McAdams is the queen, now holding the first and fourth-biggest opening weekend for an unfiltered romantic drama ($18 million for The Time Traveler's Wife).  Where it goes from here is an open question, as Dear John did not have the strongest legs, topping out at $80 million (or just below the $81 million gross of Rachel McAdam's The Notebook).  On the plus side, The Vow doesn't have the same-demo blockbuster Valentine's Day nipping on its heals like Dear John did.  Plus, even if The Vow has the same quick-kill performance (2.6x weekend-to-final multiplier), it will become the first pure romantic drama (no explosions, no action scenes, no mass-disaster in the third act) to cross $100 million since Jerry McGuire in 1996.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In defense of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace...

Like so many who read and write about movies, I saw Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on Wednesday, May 19th, at 12:01am.  Like many who read and write about movies, I did not think it was the greatest film of all time.  But like the majority of the movie-going public, I also did not think it was the worst film of all time, nor did I find it to be some kind of glorious affront to cinema as an art form.  And 13 years later, it is what it always was: a Star Wars movie through-and-through.  It has problems unique to itself, unique to the prequel trilogy, and even some problems that have existed in the series right at the start.  Taking away the fact that one film was a cinematic breakthrough an launched the fandom of a hundred-million would-be movie lovers and the other was released under the crushing expectations of two generations of film fans, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is really no better or worse than Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man gets a stylish, but still familiar trailer.

Taken on its own merits, this is a pretty solid trailer.  The visual effects look decent, there seems to be plenty and varied web-slinging action, and Marc Webb's reboot does possess a different, more real-world look compared to Raimi's cotton-candy New York City.  But the idea that this film is 'darker' because it's visually darker and rains a bit more, for the moment, silly.  For all the bright colors and gee-whiz action, Sam Raimi's initial Spider-Man was an awfully morose and depressing affair, with pretty much every major character (Peter, Mary Jane, Harry, Norman, etc) in a state of mental duress for 90% of the picture.  How gloomy is the picture?  It ends at a funeral... for the villain!  And the idea that this film differs by creating a student/mentor relationship between Peter Parker and Dr. Conners completely ignores the father/son relationship between Peter and Norman Osbourne in Spider-Man and the student/mentor relationship (truncated as it was) between Peter and Dr. Octavius in Spider-Man 2.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Politicizing apolitical Americana... Will the GOP/Right Wing surrender their biggest advantage by protesting the Clint Eastwood Chrysler Super Bowl commercial?

I've written from time-to-time about how Democrats and Liberals seem so willing to cede what should be basic apolitical American values to the Right/Republican wing of America.  Pundits, even liberal ones, brand movies as Conservative because they espouse family values, morality, private charity, personal responsibility, monogamy, the right of self-defense, entrepreneurship, patriotism, etc.  Never-mind that such American values are technically apolitical and are shared and practiced by people of all political stripes, the 'Right Wing sound machine' did a bang-up job in the 1980s and 1990s basically branding much of Americana as 'conservative', and we stupid liberals went on and allowed them to do it.  The Democratic wing has long struggled with rebutting an opposition that successfully branded itself as 'explicitly American' and has defined the debate by defining the vocabulary.  So to those criticizing last night's Chrysler commercial, which aired during the Super Bowl and was narrated by Clint Eastwood (longtime Libertarian/Republican) as some kind of pro-Obama propaganda, knock yourself out.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl commercial: The Avengers (extended preview) adds money-shots, lacks visual oomph, high-toned polish, and a sense of grand scale.

There are certain a handful of 'money-shots' in this 70-second spot, and the final Hulk action beat is the kind of thing that gets people excited.  Still, there is something missing here, both in the sense of actual action content (it still feels like 80% of the action occurs in the third act) and a certain visual pizzazz.  The first preview was in 1.85:1 and while this one seems to be 2.35:1 (or something close to that), there is a certain flatness to the footage.  I'm as much of a Joss Whedon fan as the next nerd, but he is known more for his dialogue and his character-plotting than any directorial flourish.  Without a certain polished sheen or rich color-scheme, scenes like that final 360-degree pan looks like five people playing dress-up with high-end Halloween costumes (compare the new Captain America costume with any still from Johnston's Captain America).  It's tough to put my finger on it, but the whole film (from what we've seen so far) looks and feels a bit plain, and thus doesn't feel as epic or even as 'big' as it damn-well should.  Of course, if the writing and acting are up-to-par, the visual issues will matter that-much less.  But it is still a bit disheartening to see what is supposed to be 'the mother of all superhero films' that looks significantly less epic and large-scale than even the first Spider-Man picture.  The Avengers of course drops on May 4th.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Weekend Box Office (02/05/12): Chronicle and The Woman In Black both debut to around $20 million while Big Miracle tanks.

As I wrote yesterday (HERE), I don't care which of the two big releases end up at number one for this weekend.  Chronicle and The Woman In Black are both low-budget over/under $15 million releases that are somewhat abnormal in terms of what's considered a mainstream release, both were exceedingly well-marketed (as opposed to 'saturation marketing'), and both are unqualified hits after their first three days.  But since I have to choose which film to discuss first, I will pick Chronicle (review), which A) I've seen and B) is the unofficial #1 film this weekend with $22 million (as opposed to The Woman In Black, which made 'just' $21 million).  Chronicle announces the arrival of director Josh Trank (and writer Max Landis, son of John).  The quite compelling and thoughtful character study, which is plays with the genre trappings of as super-hero origin story through the 'found footage' format, cost just $12 million and drew a large chunk of young audiences of both genders (it played 45% female).  I have no idea what the legs will be like on this downbeat morality play (it received a B from Cinemascore), but I'd argue its artistic and box office success pretty much kills Warner Bros's planned live-action Akira remake and hurts Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man (which is advertising itself as a more low-key and emotionally-gritty superhero origin story... whoops).  Come what may, a very good and creative little movie just opened very well, and that's a win for everyone.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I don't care whether Chronicle or The Woman In Black tops the box office, and here's why you shouldn't either...

With a neck-and-neck opening Friday, two of the three major wide releases both look like they will end up with around $20 million over the Super Bowl weekend.  Both Chronicle and The Woman In Black had budgets around $15 million and targeted ad campaigns, meaning that a $20 million debut makes both films pretty solid hits right out of the gate.  But many of the box office pundits are of-course obsessing over which film will be #1 for the weekend, offering up-to-the-minute updates as to which of the two films is in the lead over the ongoing weekend.  For example, Exhibitor Relations tossed out a Facebook post stating that "Chronicle is holding off The Woman In Black again today, up by about 500k, but the lead could shrink tomorrow. Still too close to call."  I've written now and then about how the spin and 'campaigning' in mainstream Hollywood is similar to the political scene in Washington DC, and it certainly applies in this case.   Like many of the political primaries being waged all over the country in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, weekend box office is not a winner-take-all proposition.  Just as most states' (38 out of 50) delegates are divided up based on percentage of total votes for a given candidate, the film that takes the number 01 spot does not get all of the ticket sales for the weekend.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Review: Chronicle (2012) is a compelling character drama, a visual dazzler, and a thoughtful deconstruction of the 'chosen hero' myth.

83 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

I've written a lot over the last couple years about how, if superhero films are going to survive, they are going to have to be able to be about something other than the generic tropes of superhero comic book adventures.  Captain America excelled because it was a World War II period action drama, while Green Lantern mostly faltered because it wasn't about anything other than its own conventions.  Chronicle (written by Max Landis and directed by Josh Trank) is a shining example of a powerful emotional tragedy that involves certain comic book conventions without really being about them.  At heart, the picture is a fierce rebuttal of the now-cliche 'with great power comes a superior destiny' motif that has been central to the last ten years of big-budget fantasy pictures, both those based on comics and those based on young-adult fantasy novels.  More than just a deconstruction of fantasy tropes, Chronicle is a thoughtful and empathetic story of  three disparate teens who end up with special powers and how it does or does not change them.

John Carter gets an 'introduce the heroes' new preview.

Ignoring the Disney Channel-esque voice-over (this may very well be intended to air during Shake It Up commercial breaks), the biggest problem in this 61-second preview is the seemingly awful performance from lead Taylor Kitsch.  The American trailer barely lets him speak at all, and getting to hear him toss off a few lines more complicated than 'Ugh' makes me realize why.  Again, it's just a 61-second teaser that spends most of the time introducing the heroic supporting characters (the wise mentor/sidekick, the princess/love interest, and the comic relief pet), but his few moments of actual vocal inflection leave quite a bit to be desired.  Frankly, it sounds like there is something wrong with his voice, as if someone (be it Kitsch or voice-modulators) is trying to make the strapping hero's pitch sound lower than he actually is.  Of course, a bad vocal performance isn't entirely fatal if said actor is expressive enough to somewhat compensate (Hayden Christensen's highly expressive face somewhat compensated for wooden vocal delivery in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith), but having neither positive traits can be quite fatal (think Garrett Hedlund in Tron: Legacy).  I'm assuming that this Sunday's Super Bowl commercial will show off the scale of this Andrew Stanton epic, so here's hoping that the film actually looks like it cost $300 million.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is officially Tom Cruise's biggest global hit ever. Why the film's $200 million+ domestic total puts it in rare company...

As of yesterday, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol has earned $594 million worldwide, meaning that it has surpassed the $591 million earned in 2005 by War of the Worlds to become the biggest worldwide grosser in Tom Cruise's career.  Domestically, the film sits at $203 million, or behind the $215 million grossing Mission: Impossible II and the $234 million-grossing War of the Worlds.  On the domestic front, it's still ninth in terms of inflation, but the Tom Cruise films of the 1980s and 1990s didn't have to deal with losing 1,600 screens in two weeks despite strong legs.  It is beyond unfortunate that even a film as 'leggy' as Mission: Impossible IV has to contend with arbitrarily losing screens due to the 2-5 new releases that drop each and every weekend.  The jam-packed schedule of mainstream movie releases, as well as the absence of a viable second-run market, has kneecapped any number of films over the last 5-10 years and resulted in screen-bleed and depressed total grosses even if the films didn't exhibit the usual 'quick-kill blockbuster' behavior.

*This* is confidence: The Hunger Games gets an IMAX upgrade while Lionsgate releases a spoiler-free second trailer.

I have now seen three Hunger Games previews, the teaser, the wonderful full trailer from a few months ago, and now this 69-second second trailer.  And I still know next-to-nothing about how the film plays out.  I know the concept, I know large chunks of the first and second act, and I know some of the actors I can expect to see.  Other than that, nadda.  No mega-money shots from the climax, no thrill-spilling montage, no expository narration or on-screen text.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you market a would-be franchise.  You explain the core story, you tease a character relationship or two, offer a few tantalizing bits and pieces, and you get out.  This final teaser, combined with the news that the film will play in IMAX for the first week of release, is a sign that Lionsgate feels it has the goods and can deliver not just to the fans of the source material but to general audiences as well.  The Hunger Games opens on March 32rd.  As always, we'll see...  Oh, and the IMAX press release is after the jump.

Scott Mendelson      

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Super Bowl commercial: G.I. Joe: Retaliation brings the cheese.

I liked G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra more than most people did, so it heartens me to say that this short 30 second spot feels more larger-than-life than the first full trailer.  Point being, I don't want a G.I. Joe movie that is 'dark, gritty, and realistic'.  Obviously having two genuine movie stars leading the pack will probably allow this picture to be taken more seriously than the last one, although it will be interesting to see how much Channing Tatum actually appears in this sequel, since he's obviously being hidden in the marketing thus far.  As I've said before, the most promising element is the fact that they are actually honoring the crazy cliffhanger from the first picture and frankly the fact that they are treating this as a sequel at all, as opposed to a 'reboot'.  Anyway, considering how much ink has been spent of late discussing the costumes for female characters in franchises like this, it is refreshing to see that Elodie Yung (Jinx) and Adrienne Palecki (Lady Jane) will be allowed to wear full outfits during their big moments.  And Faran Tahir (allegedly playing Cobra Commander) once again returns to the Paramount franchise fold, having had small roles in Iron Man and Star Trek (he's apparently a good luck charm).  Point being, this does look like the kind of big-scale fun we want out of a G.I. Joe movie, so here's hoping that Jon Chu pulls it off.  The picture opens on June 29th, 2012.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson

The newly announced Before Watchmen is a prime example of what's killing DC Comics - Chasing the converted at the expense of new readers.

The big news this morning (really early this morning, like around 3:04am) is DC Comic's announcement of a seven-book prequel to Alan Moore's groundbreaking Watchmen series.  Titled Before Watchmen (covers) the mini-series will involve the likes of Brian Azzarello, Darwyn Cooke, and  J. Michael Straczynski with each of the seven chapters concerning a specific major character.  I have no idea whether this project will be any good or not.  But it sits as a shining example of the fundamental flaw that exists in the comic industry, especially within DC Comics.  They spend most of their time chasing the readers that grew up with their iconic characters rather than attempting to attract new readers who are growing up right now.

New image of Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall reminds me I need to shave today (plus thoughts on the early Connery 007 films).

Among my various New Year's Resolutions for 2012 is a personal pledge to shave more often.  While I get the peach fuzz pretty much 12-16 hours after a full facial shaving, I still find it occasionally irritating to my skin to shave every day.  But as a result, I will occasionally let it grow for a week.  There are two problems with this.  First, when I finally do shave, I have enough of a beard that it takes me a good twenty minutes to be able to see my cheeks.  Secondly, pretty much everyone in my household, from Wendy to Allison to Ethan, prefers me clean-shaven.  Since I agree with them and I do try to make them happy when possible, I really am trying to make an effort to shave at least every few days.  Fortunately I did plug in my razor today, so I will probably give it a go later today after I get some work done.


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