Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The box office legacy of Jurassic Park, 20 years later...

It would be all too easy to detail the ways in which Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park was a game changer in the realm of summer blockbusters and major-studio releases in general.  Its June 1993 release shattered a number of box office records and kicked off the glorious second act of Steven Spielberg's illustrious career.  But the story is more complicated than that.  Jurassic Park was a movie precisely of its time.  In some ways it did lead the charge in terms of how films were made and released.  In other ways, quite frankly, it was one of the last of its kind.  Jurassic Park is perhaps a defining example of the perfect combination of newfangled and old-school blockbuster film-making.  It represented both a preview of what was to come and the last gasp of traditional mainstream movie-making in one glorious concoction.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How much Star Wars is too much Star Wars?

English: Opening logo to the Star Wars films

Disney announced two days ago that their new plans, having previously purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion, aren't just to make a new trilogy of Star Wars episodes, nor even to make a few spin-off films set in the same universe.  No, they are planning to make one Star Wars movie every single year, with off-shoot films alternating with official new 'episodes'.  How much Star Wars is too much Star Wars? The idea of a new trilogy of Star Wars films, set to debut ten years after the finale of the prequel trilogy, is perhaps also exciting, even as J.J. Abrams replacing George Lucas as the proverbial leader of this specific universe calls for cautious optimism (Is Star Wars without any real input from George Lucas really Star Wars?  Discuss...).  But how long will the casual fans remain excited about the prospect of new Star Wars films when they appear as frequently as Thanksgiving dinner for years and years on end?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Real Tragedy vs. Reel Tragedy: A History of Films Released in the Shadow of Non-Fiction Horror

For much of the last six months, many hardcore Star Trek fans have been somewhat annoyed that the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness has been marketed as a somewhat generic grim-n-gritty 'dark sequel' focused not on space exploration but on Kirk and his crew pursuing a seemingly unstoppable super villain (Benedict Cumberbatch).  I've jokingly referred to the marketing as Skyfall Into The Dark Knight, but the irony is that Paramount may now be regretting their 'sell this to generic action fans' approach.  If, and this is a big "if", the perpetrator behind Monday's Boston Marathon attack turns out to be a domestic terrorist with a grudge against allegedly tyrannical government forces, how will Paramount handle their prime summer tent pole, which has been centered around a domestic terrorist with an apparent grudge against Starfleet blowing up populated areas?  This is sadly not the first time we've had this kind of discussion.  But it's worth noting that it's having to happen with increasing frequency.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why Guillermo del Toro's 'Pacific Rim' Will Be a Bigger Hit if Summer 2013 is an Artistic Failure...

As I mentioned last week, the success of Guillermo del Toro's large-scale monsters vs. robots action tale Pacific Rim is at least partially predicated on how well-received the previous two months of summer films happen to be.  This summer will mark the ten year anniversary of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.  As most of you know, the Disney pirate adventure was a surprise of sorts, both in terms of its unexpected quality and its huge financial success.  The film was a proverbial dark horse of summer 2003, a film based on pirates (box office poison!) starring Johnny Depp (usually box office poison way back when) and based on a theme park ride.  On paper, the $130 million film was seemingly a recipe for disaster.  But two things happened that summer.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was very good and a large portion of the May/June summer releases were not.  As such, by early July, summer movie audiences were primed for a would-be tent-pole that actually delivered the goods.  Gore Verbinski's pirate adventure was the one we were waiting for, and audiences responded accordingly with a $73 million five-day opening and a $303 million final domestic total.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review: Tom Cruise's 'Oblivion' (2013) Presents a Beautiful Vision of the End of the World

I could easily spoil the vast majority of Oblivion merely by listing the various science fiction films from which it cribs.  From visual cues to plot beats and character arcs, it feels like a mash-up of the various high-profile science fiction thrillers from the last few decades.  But almost despite itself, the film works anyway as its own beast.  Yes the characters are thin and the screenplay doesn't have too much going on underneath the hood, but the film is an absolute visual delight.  Universal originally planned to release this film in America last Friday for an exclusive IMAX-only week-long engagement and it's easy to see why.  The film features absolutely fantastic special effects, yet offers the pleasure of being able to believe your eyes more often than not.  Director Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion may be a triumph of style over substance, but the picture *is* a triumph of style, with strong acting that helps overcome the lack of substance.  Sometimes visual imagination coupled with strong acting is enough.  The end of the world never looked so beautiful.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why it may be a good thing if no films pass $1 billion in 2013...

Just a few years ago, had I written a piece entitled "There are no films guaranteed to gross $1 billion this year", you likely would have laughed and said "Of course not!".  As recently as 2010, the idea that any movie could or would gross $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales was somewhat of a pipe dream.  From 1997 to 2006, there were just two films to reach that milestone, they being Titanic  (the biggest movie of all-time with a seemingly insurmountable $1.8 billion) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Oscar-winning chapter to what can be argued is the finest screen trilogy of our time (that's a debate for another day).  In 2006, we saw the powerhouse success of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest which parlayed the unexpected popularity of the first film into an even larger haul for its sequel, breaking the domestic opening weekend record at the time ($135 million) and earning a massive $423 million in America and $642 million overseas.  In 2008, The Dark Knight pulled another "massively popular sequel to unexpectedly well-liked original" trick to the tune of $533 million in America (good for the second biggest grosser of all time in America, if only for a year) and just over $1 billion worldwide despite not playing in China due to that pesky "Chinese gangster hides Gotham mob money" subplot. 2009 saw James Cameron do that trick that James Cameron does yet again, with Avatar earning $1 billion worldwide in about seventeen days and going on to earn an eye-popping $2.7 billion.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Weekend Box Office: '42' Sets Record, 'Scary Movie 5' Bombs, 'Oblivion' Launches Overseas

Here's an odd statistic: Despite baseball being theoretically America's national past time and being the subject of any number of feature films over the decades, not a single baseball-themed film has ever opened at over $20 million.  Not until today that is, when the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 (review HERE) opened with a surprisingly robust $27.3 million.  Not only is that the biggest baseball opening weekend on record, it's the biggest baseball-themed opening weekend even when adjusted for inflation (in 2013 dollars, A League of Their Own has a debut of $26.6 million).  This is good news for the somewhat beleaguered Warner Bros, which has seen the disappointing returns for Bullet to the HeadBeautiful Creatures, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (all well under $25 million in domestic totals).  The film scored a rock-solid 3.0x weekend multiplier and a somewhat rare A+ score from the audience polling service CinemaScore.  The film played 52% male and 83% 25-and-older.  So yeah, the $38 million production is likely going to have long legs at least for the month of April with a trip over the $100 million mark a genuine possibility.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why Guillermo del Toro's 'Pacific Rim' Will Be a Bigger Hit if Summer 2013 is an Artistic Failure

As I mentioned last week, the success of Guillermo del Toro's large-scale monsters vs. robots action tale Pacific Rim is at least partially predicated on how well-received the previous two months of summer films happen to be.  This summer will mark the ten year anniversary of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.  As most of you know, the Disney pirate adventure was a surprise of sorts, both in terms of its unexpected quality and its huge financial success.  The film was a proverbial dark horse of summer 2003, a film based on pirates (box office poison!) starring Johnny Depp (usually box office poison way back when) and based on a theme park ride.  On paper, the $130 million film was seemingly a recipe for disaster.  But two things happened that summer.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was very good and a large portion of the May/June summer releases were not.  As such, by early July, summer movie audiences were primed for a would-be tent-pole that actually delivered the goods.  Gore Verbinski's pirate adventure was the one we were waiting for, and audiences responded accordingly with a $73 million five-day opening and a $303 million final domestic total.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Summer Movie Marketing Challenge: Tease, Don't Spoil!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: 42 (2013)

Writer/director Brian Helgeland's 42 is an openly earnest and sentimental bit of old-school hokum.  It is the kind of studio programmer biopic that was once a standard issue release, and it is absolutely successful in its respective goals.  It doesn't aim to be an all-encompassing epic of race relations in the 1940's, nor does it even strive to use the Jackie Robinson story as a grand statement on the eventual Civil Rights movement to come, even as its characters are all-too-aware of the color barrier being broken.  It masks a certain subtly and nuance beyond sweeping music and sometimes obvious monologues.  Released in April instead of October or November, it is surely not intended to win Oscars but merely to tell an educational story to a generation for whom its significance may have lessened over the years.

Can Fox And Dreamworks Combined Challenge Disney's Animation Empire?


During the summer of 2013, there will be six animated (or live-action/animated hybrid) entries.  At a glance, it would seem like healthy competition as each of the major current players are offering an official entry into the summer box office sweepstakes.  You've got 20th Century Fox taking a shot at proving they can do more than Ice Age sequels, delivering the somewhat on-the-nose-titled Epic over Memorial Day weekend.  Pixar unleashes their official summer entry, the Monsters Inc. prequel Monsters University on June 21st.  Universal delivers its trump card with Despicable Me 2 over July 4th weekend while Dreamworks releases its snail-racing comedy Turbo on July 17th, a frankly unusual release date for them, but no matter.  Sony delivers The Smurfs 2 on July 31st while Disney offers up the previously straight-to-DVD entry Planes on August 9th.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Paramount And MGM Did Everything Right With 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' (Except Make A Good Movie).

It's no secret that I didn't much care of G.I. Joe: Retaliation when I saw it at the All-Media screening just under two weeks ago. Heck, I'm one of maybe ten critics on the planet who actually preferred Stephen Summers's first (and I'd argue, underrated) G.I. Joe picture from summer 2009. But despite my personal preferences, the film is a solid hit worldwide, ushering in an almost immediate green-light for G.I. Joe 3.  Paramount did a few very smart things during the production of this Jon Chu-helmed sequel. In fact, other than the fact that it's not a very good movie (arguably the hardest variable to plan on, natch), Paramount Pictures and MGM's handling of G.I. Joe: Retaliation may be a primer on how to successfully launch a tentpole film in today's marketplace.  First of all, that much-debated nine-month delay from June 2012 to March 2013 turned out to be the right call.  Aside from the obvious 10-20% bump in ticket prices per 3D-ticket sold, overseas audiences went for the 3D, and the delay in order to convert the film to 3D is partially responsible for its strong $232 million-and-counting worldwide total, or already within reach of the $300 million that Rise of Cobra earned altogether.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Scott Mendelson goes to Forbes! A word about the future...

I was going to write this on Thursday, but then Roger Ebert died and I just didn't have it in me.  So I apologize to those who follow this blog but not my social media outlets and have no idea where I've been since Thursday.  Long-story short, I have been hired to write about box office and marketing for Forbes.  It's not a king's ransom, but it's a token amount of extra money to do what I've been doing purely for fun for five years going.  The "bad" news is two-fold.  First of all, the pieces that go on Forbes are exclusive to Forbes for five days, so if you're wondering where my weekend box office column is, it's right here.  Now certain pieces, like the first two I wrote for the site, aren't quite as time-sensitive and thus can be republished here in a week's time.  For those who don't want to go to Forbes to read my work (although I wish you would, since I get extra commission based on traffic), I will do my best to republish the work here in good time.  The other "bad" news is that this means that I will be altering my focus just a bit.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert has died. But cinema is more alive than ever...

If the film critic has any kind of noble purpose, it is to shine a light on the good and the unexpectedly great in film.  No one gets into film criticism because they hate movies.  We got into this because we love the cinema and we love the singular experience of watching great movies.  If we have any kind of noble goal, it is to highlight what we love, even if its a minority opinion and even if it opens us up to ridicule from our peers.  If we have a social good, it is in highlighting the great movies that may have slipped under the radar.  It is in highlighting the little-seen independent film that desperately needs the publicity to stand out alongside its peers. It is also in highlighting the genuine artistry found in mainstream studio pictures, especially in a time when so many film scholars are all-too willing to write off every would-be 'big movie' and thus declare that cinema is dead.  Cinema is not dead.  Cinema is as alive as it's ever been.

Scott Mendelson: On seeing Jurassic Park 20 years ago...

I'll make this simple.  My first theatrical viewing of Jurassic Park remains, without question, the best theatrical movie going experience of my life. It encapsulated pretty much everything good about the theatrical experience, including any number of elements that are perhaps non-replicable in today's film culture.  The viewing was an unexpected advance-night screening, back before every movie opened on Thursday at 12:00 am, if not 10:00 pm or earlier.  Jurassic Park had a whole slate of advance screenings on Thursday the 10th of June, starting at I believe 8:00 pm.  I had presumed I would be seeing it sometime that weekend, but my mother informed me that my dad was coming home from a business trip and he was picking me up in time for a 10:00 pm screening.  Obviously excited, I hurriedly rushed to finish the original Michael Crichton novel that I had been blazing through.  We got to the theater early enough and the auditorium, as well as the auditoriums around us, were absolutely jammed packed.  Everyone was excited to be there, but nobody really knew what they were in for.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Guest Review: Evil Dead (2013) is a solid horror remake...

Evil Dead
92 minutes
Rated R

Evil Dead is a surprisingly faithful yet reimagined retread of the legendary Sam Raimi film that pushes the limits of commercial theatrical wide release horror films.  This is a horror film that isn't afraid or ashamed to be one.  With a intense, blood-drenched finale that should leave a packed theater cheering, Evil Dead falls on the side of good remakes.

The story of this iteration of Evil Dead surrounds a girl, Mia (Jane Levy), who is being taken out to an old abandoned secluded cabin, once owned by her family, to hopefully detox her current drug problem.  Along the way to assist, are 2 of her friends and her brother with his girlfriend.  Upon exploring a smell in the basement, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and David (Shiloh Fernandez) find a ritualistic set of dead cats and the Book of the Dead.  After reading some passages, wild things begin to happen to Mia.  Should her friends believe the things she says or is it her trying to escape cold turkey detox?

Brandon Peters ranks the Evil Dead films...


Well, this is the shortest rankings I’ve done so far.  If I did French Connection or John Carter, there could be shorter ones.  I really love the Evil Dead franchise.  I think it’s a perfect trilogy as is right now.  All three films are great on their own level.  I’m not against additional films in the series or the remake that’s being done.  The remake has a heavy hand from Sam Raimi AND Bruce Campbell, so I trust it.  And the fact that they both WANTED to do the remake is encouraging.  My only worry is that it’s a good film, but I’m hoping its not overhyped.  There’s a lot of crazy praise happening for it.  I feel I’m someone pretty well versed in horror/desensitized, so it takes a lot to genuinely scare me.  And you got to make your over the top gore count for narrative and character to give it that impact you want from me.  I’m excited for it though, I really am.

Now…lets RANK

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part V: Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Brandon Peters has returned! Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series. He continues with a bonus look at Drag Me To Hell. For those who want my original theatrical review, go HERE. Otherwise, without further ado...

Drag Me To Hell
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring:  Alison Lohman, Justin Long, David Paymer, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao
Rated PG-13 (I watched the Unrated cut)

You tricked me, you black-hearted who-o-o-o-o-ore! You b-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-itch!

If you’re question why I covered this film in my EVIL DEAD retrospective series, then you’ve never seen Drag Me To Hell.  And if you haven’t seen Drag Me To Hell, stop reading, go out and Netflix or BUY it (it's like $5 at Fry’s).  You've been missing out on one of the best horror films of the previous decade. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

R.L. Shaffer: On seeing Jurassic Park 20 years ago...

This is the second of a handful of essays regarding your first (and second and/or third) viewing of
Jurassic Park twenty summers ago, as we brace ourselves for the film's 3D IMAX rerelease this Friday.  I'm sure every single one of my readers has such a memory so feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Memories of Jurassic Park:

By R.L Shaffer

I was a mere 12 years old when I first visited Jurassic Park.

From the very first teaser (seen above) I was hooked. As a self-professed lover of dinosaurs (or dino-sars as Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm pronounced it), it would be my duty to see any film about these mysterious creatures. I didn't know what I was going to get, either, but if director Steven Spielberg was going to take me there, I was more than willing to enjoy the ride.

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part IV: Army of Darkness (1992)

Brandon Peters has returned! Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series. He continues with a look at Army of Darkness. As only a casual Evil Dead fan, this was an extra-special treat as this isn't a film series that I've memorized by heart. This was as informative for me as I hope it will be for you. So without further ado...

Army of Darkness
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Ian Abercrombie, Marcus Gilbert, Richard Grove…also Bridget Fonda and a line-less Linda, Night of the Living Dead remake’s Patricia Tallman as a deadite and Wedding Singer’s Angela Featherstone as an S-Mart girl
Rated R

Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.

With the success of Darkman, Sam Raimi was finally able to bring to life his vision of Ash fighting deadites in medieval times.  Originally titled The MediEvil Dead, the film was the first in the series to be backed by a major studio.  However, the film is still done on the cheap.  Bringing the comedic aspect of Evil Dead 2 to the forefront this time around, Raimi unleashes an insanely fun, quotable film featuring an encore performance by Bruce Campbell and a tribute to the comedy and adventures Sam Raimi enjoyed growing up.

Press Release: Finding Dory swimming into theaters 11/25/15.


Disney•Pixar’s “Finding Dory” to Dive into Theaters
November 25, 2015

Ellen DeGeneres, the Voice of the Beloved Blue Tang Fish in 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” Shares Plans for the All-New Big-Screen Adventure

The conformist rebellion of Spring Breakers...

There is something oddly safe and reassuring about the alleged shocking content found in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers.  It is something so explicitly fashioned to be viewed as 'outrageous' yet its actual onscreen content would presumably only be shocking to those who are somewhat, pardon the simplification, sheltered or easily hot-n-bothered.  It contains moments of overt sexuality and moments of stark violence, but nothing that wouldn't be out of place in a more conventional action picture.  The fact that the very idea of former Disney starlets (and a current ABC Family Channel star) running around in bikinis and engaging in "Girls Gone Wild" type behavior is considered "controversial" or "outrageous" is perhaps a dangerous sign of our current puritanistic attitudes.  The film, at least from a marketing standpoint, seems intentionally designed to give an outlet for "serious" critics and/or journalists to have their cake and eat it too.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Brandon Peters: On seeing Jurassic Park 20 years ago...

This is one of two of three essays regarding your first (and second and/or third) viewing of Jurassic Park twenty summers ago, as we brace ourselves for the film's 3D IMAX rerelease this Friday.  I'm sure every single one of my readers has such a memory so feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Jurassic Park Memories
Brandon Peters

Yes, that photo supporting the article is ridiculous…but I just kinda “had to” use it. Hilariously, its one of those images that sticks in your head from the movie.

Jurassic Park was one of those films that comes along once every 8-10 years that just restores your faith and fulfill the magic of seeing a film in a theater to the highest level.  There was an absolute joy and “level up-ing" of my love for cinema after viewing this movie.  An event movie in the greatest sense. And man, was there a craze following it.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weekend Box Office: GI Joe: Retaliation tops Easter weekend while The Host tanks.

It was a crowded Easter weekend at the box office, as three new releases and a couple strong holdovers did battle over the frame.  Opening on Thursday to take advantage of Good Friday (IE - no school!).

G.I. Joe: Retaliation opened with a relatively solid $51.7 million over the four-day frame, for a $41.2 million Fri-Sun gross.  Any way you slice it, this is a slightly lower figure than the $54 million Fri-Sun debut of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra back in August 2009.  Yes that film opened in late summer but this film had 3D-enhanced ticket prices, so it's basically an even comparison.  The sequel/reboot was scheduled to open in late June of last summer only to be pulled and rescheduled so that the film could be converted to 3D in order to theoretically boost foreign grosses. One can only wonder whether Paramount possibly cut off its nose to spite its face, sacrificing a prime summer slot when the buzz was hottest only to achieve an arguably lower debut than it might have achieved had it opened when intended. G.I. Joe: Retaliation probably won't cross $120 million in America, which in normal circumstances would be very bad.  More likely, Paramount knowingly sacrificed domestic strength for international muscle, which is yet another sign of the times. The current worldwide total is estimated to be about $132 million, so it's nearly halfway to the first film's entire $300 million worldwide total.  Assuming it has anything resembling legs, Paramount's risky bet may have paid off.  The new film cost less ($130 million) and the first film ($175 million), so presuming the rescheduling didn't massively add to the marketing and distribution costs, equaling or surpassing the first film's total ($150 million domestic and $150 million international) still counts as a single if not a double depending on the overall result.

Happy Easter from Mendelson's Memos (and a herd of killer rabbits heading this way)!

Yes, I'm Jewish and I married a Jew, but that hasn't stopped me from having to endure the various Christian holidays, specifically the commercialized portions.  So off to Easter brunch I go this morning, which explains why my box office write-up is a slightly more succinct than usual (a good thing?).  While I have a back-log of movies to catch up on at the moment (Room 237, The Man With the Iron Fists, etc.), I'm severely tempted to spent Easter night watching this absolutely classic for what seems to be the perfect occasion.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, March 29, 2013

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part II: Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)

Brandon Peters has returned! Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series. He continues with a look at Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn. As only a casual Evil Dead fan, this was an extra-special treat as this isn't a film series that I've memorized by heart. This was as informative for me as I hope it will be for you. So without further ado...

Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Ted Raimi
Rated R

We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw.  Does that sound “fine”?
                        ~Ash’s mirror image

The second installment of the Evil Dead trilogy is the bridge between the first film and Army of Darkness in terms of tone.  Whereas the first film was a straight horror film, the 2nd adds a level of humor while still able to maintain jumps, scares and intensity.  This film is definitely one of the earlier and most notable films in the splatstic sub-genre of horror. The film also serves as pretty much a big budget remake of the first film. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Movies I love more than anyone else: Meet the Robinsons.

 This is the next entry of a reoccurring feature of sorts, spotlighting the movies that aren't just my favorites, but films that I probably hold in higher esteem than anyone else out there in the critical community.  Next up is a film that celebrates its sixth-anniversary this Saturday.  But I saw it six years ago today at a press screening.  No, I'm not talking about Blades of Glory, but the inexplicably wonderful Meet the Robinsons. I walked into said press screening for this one knowing almost nothing about it, save for a few pieces of promotional art and something about musical 'wiseguy' frogs.  I distinctly remember walking out of the press screening, my eyes more than a little watery, and immediately calling my wife to inform her that I had just wasted a Wednesday afternoon. I had just seen something truly special and she was going to have to accompany me for a repeat viewing as soon as possible.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) fixes what wasn't broken and breaks it possibly beyond repair.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
100 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

It's no secret that I'm a fan of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (review).  It's big, colorful, and filled with over-the-top action performed by larger-than-life heroes and villains.  The first 90 minutes (I have issues with the finale) is basically, as I said back in 2009, what might happen if someone gave the 7-year old me to go play with my G.I. Joe action figures and gave me $175 million to spend on the resulting play-drama.  But for whatever reason fan-boys and critics carped about the last picture, calling it too ridiculous and too silly for a, um, G.I. Joe movie.  So now four years later, we have a somewhat stripped down and more 'realistic' sequel to Stephen Sommers's outlandish original. Jon Chu was under orders to make it cheaper and basically more 'grounded' than the last picture, and I suppose he has succeeded. G.I. Joe: Retaliation can best be described as G.I. Joe meets Act of Valor.  I don't mean that as a compliment.

The Wolverine gets two halfway decent trailers...

After two days of ridiculous teasing in the form of "tweasers" and the like, Fox finally dropped the actual trailer, perhaps rewarding movie nerds for their patience with two trailers, a domestic cut and a longer, slightly superior international one.  This doesn't look like it's going to reinvent the comic book movie, but it looks like a halfway decent, if highly generic, action star-vehicle.  The train scene looks pretty neat and having this take place after X-Men: The Last Stand allows for a token amount of suspense, although even a seemingly de-powered Wolverine isn't going to die at the end of a movie titled The Wolverine.  Anyway, James Mangold's The Wolverine opens on July 26th.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part II: The Evil Dead (1981)

Brandon Peters has returned!  Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series.  He continues with a look at The Evil Dead. As only a casual Evil Dead fan, this was an extra-special treat as this isn't a film series that I've memorized by heart.  This was as informative for me as I hope it will be for you.  So without further ado...

The Evil Dead
Director: Sam Raimi
Assistant Editor: Joel Coen
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York
Rated R

Now the sun will be up in an hour or so, and we can all get out of here together. You, me, Linda, Shelly. Hmm... Well... not Shelly.

Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead is one of the kings of cult classics and one of the best horror films to grace the screen.  A super low-budget feature with the drive and ambition of one many times its budget, The Evil Dead holds its own and is able to keep hold, not fall apart and stand the test of time.  The film flies by with genuine scares, gore effects and camera techniques truly feeling like a master learning his craft.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

White House Down gets a conspiratorial trailer...

Well, color me intrigued. Sony is making smart choices here, selling this second Die Hard In the White House movie not as a pulpy action flick but as a large-scale disaster movie.  It puts the film squarely in the realm of director Roland Emmerich and successfully differentiates itself from Olympus Has Fallen.  Also of note, other than the larger scale seemingly on display (this is the more expensive version, natch), is the opposing narratives.  While Olympus Has Fallen concerned a certain xenophobic 'scary foreigners will try to destroy America!' plot line, White House Down seems to be going for the more conspiracy-minded 'we did this to ourselves by betraying our morals' or what-have-you.  It also teases plot twists and surprises beyond the action template, making viewers wonder what terrible secrets will be revealed and who and what actually caused the onscreen carnage.  So yeah, I think the world is big enough for two White House-under siege movies.  White House Down opens June 28th, 2013.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson         

On the "morality" of cinematic action-movie massacres...

There is a moment at around the twenty minute mark of Olympus Has Fallen where a giant airplane piloted by evil North Koreans shoot down an American fighter jet which then crashes not in the water or in an empty parking lot, but smack-dab into a suburban home.  Considering the time of day the scene takes place, there's a pretty good chance whomever lived there was probably home at the time and was instantly burned to a crisp.  That moment would have jolting enough, but the attack sequence that kicks off the plot goes on for a good twenty minutes, offering countless innocent bystanders being bloodily gunned down in the streets, along with others being crushed by falling monuments and blown up by various explosions set off during the White House siege.  This isn't even counting the bazillion Secret Service agents who are slaughtered in the attack sequence, including a moment where enemy soldiers walk around the White House plugging wounded agents in the head (onscreen) for the crime of not being quite dead yet. Half of me was rather impressed by the rather horrifying onscreen body count.  Half of me was debating whether to be offended or bothered by it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Wolverine gets two hilariously terrible posters...

Well if you're not going to make a great poster, you might as well go the other route and make a piece of marketing art so terrible that everyone will *still* be talking about it all day.  There isn't much more to say other than to point and laugh.  The trailer drops on Wednesday.  Anyway, enjoy...

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weekend Box Office (03/24/13) part II: Olympus Has Fallen rises while Admission fails and Spring Breakers amuses.

No matter what you think of the film, the $30.5 million debut of Olympus Has Fallen this weekend is very good news for those who want their action films to be R-rated.  With Arnold, Sly, and Jason all flaming out and only the terrible A Good Day To Die Hard opening well, we needed an original R-rated action film to reestablish their viability. I may be forgetting something, but this this is among the top R-rated action openings for a non-sequel since the $50 million debut of Wanted back in June 2008 (possible exceptions: Inglorious Basterds which opened with $37 million in August 2009 and the sci-fi drama The Book of Eli which debuted with $32 million in early 2010).  The film is easily Film District's biggest debut ever, with a solid A- from Cinemascore and a strong 3.0x weekend multiplier.  The concept is a pretty obvious winner, so obvious that I'm amazed it hasn't been done before (yet it's only the first of two, with White House Down opening this summer).  The obvious appeal of the narrative plus a game cast of recognizable players (Gerald Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, etc.).  It'll take a hit next weekend from G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but it should recover due to the fact that it's one of the most insanely violent R-rated action films this side of Starship Troopers and thus will provide the kind of carnage that a PG-13 G.I. Joe movie cannot.  Hopefully this finally gets the undervalued Antoine Fuqua onto the various 'hot lists' next time a studio goes hunting for a tent pole director.

Weekend Box Office (03/24/13) part I: The Croods isn't Dreamworks' comeback because they weren't in free-fall.

What a difference three years and an deflated expectations make.  Three years ago this weekend, Dreamworks had to eat a token amount of crow when How To Train Your Dragon opened with *just* $43 million.  Coming off the $59 million debut of Monsters vs. Aliens a year prior and elevated expectations due to the "new-found" popularity of 3D, the film was written off initially as a slight disappointment with the hopes that strong reviews and word-of-mouth would keep it alive.  Of course, the film had insane legs and eventually ended up with $217 million domestic, but that's another story.  Now, coming off the somewhat disappointing Rise of the Guardians ($303 million worldwide), a series of company lay-offs, and the delaying and/or cancellation of a few projects (like Me and My Shadow), Dreamworks is now trying to sell the (estimated as of this writing) $44 million debut of The Croods as a comeback and/or a massive win for the company.  But not only is this not a comeback, but I would argue that Dreamworks doesn't have anywhere to come back from and that the perception of their failing after a single disappointing film is indicative of the fall-out of our obsession with rise/fall narratives where they don't belong.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Warner Bros. already has the ingredients for Justice League, and the keys to making it unique and groundbreaking...

So here's the $250 million question... Even if Warner Bros. eventually gets its proverbial act together and finds a decent script and a willing director how exactly do they make Justice League more than just 'the one that came second'? Warner Bros. is now in the unenviable position of trying to follow up what is basically the superhero team-up film that everyone always wanted to see.  Oh sure, you can argue that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are bigger and more iconic characters than  Thor or Iron Man, but Marvel did the work and kudos to them for herding the necessary cats in order to make it happen.  The irony is of course that Warner Bros. and DC Comics already have the ingredients to make Justice League matter in a movie world that has already seen The Avengers.  They have the ingredients, and the manner in which they mix them will potentially allow Justice League to be different enough and unique enough to stand on its own.  They just have to be willing to do what Marvel has so far been unwilling to do, which is to focus on heroes that aren't quite the ones you'd expect to take center stage.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Brandon Peters's Evil Dead franchise retrospective part I: Within the Woods (1978)

Brandon Peters has returned!  Leading up to the April 5th release date of the new Evil Dead remake, Mr. Peters will be doing his voodoo with the Evil Dead series.  He begins not with a retrospective review of the first Evil Dead film, because that would be too easy.  No, first he's giving us a look at Within the Woods, the 1978 short film that Sam Raimi made in order to get funding for The Evil Dead.  As only a casual Evil Dead fan, I've frankly never heard of this one, so this was as informative for me as I hope it will be for you.  So without further ado...

Within The Woods
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Ellen Sandweiss, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel
Not Rated

You're only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We're just gonna be eating hotdogs.

Sam Raimi's desired vision for The Evil Dead could not come to fruition unless he had more money than he could come up with himself.  So, in 1978, he decided to make a short film, as sort of a trailer to hope to scare up the money to make the full film (yes, that was a pun, sometimes I just can't help it).  Raimi's movie premiered in front of a midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show to a good reception and he was able to acquire most of the his desired budget to make The Evil Dead.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013) is violent and stupid, a 'direct-to-VHS Die Hard rip-off' on steroids.

Olympus Has Fallen
120 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

If taken at face-value, Antoine Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen is pretty much morally indefensible. Written by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, the film offers a level of jingoistic fear-mongering  the likes of which are more commonly associated with a 1980s Chuck Norris vehicle and/or the likes of Cobra.  It is astonishingly violent yet acts as if the safety of a single person is all that necessitates a happy ending.  While the slightly similar 'president in peril' epic Air Force One at least implicitly asked what cost in lives should be spent to preserve the life on a man who happens to hold a certain elected office, Olympus Has Fallen has no such weighty ideas on its mind.  It is not so much a Die Hard rip-off but a high-budget ($80 million) ode to the flurry of cheapie straight-to-VHS knock-offs that flourished in the late 1990s, complete with simplistic plotting and implausible levels of violence.  It isn't terribly smart and it peaks in the first act, but damned if I didn't enjoy the picture nonetheless.

Disney unleashes the terrific opening credit sequence from Oz: The Great And Powerful. Watch it now (or whenever)!

The best thing I can say about the 3D work in Oz: The Great and Powerful is that I could tell, even in my 2D screening, that it probably looked spectacular in 3D.  Anyway, Disney has released the terrific opening credit sequence for our viewing pleasure.  Obviously it's spoiler-free.  Yes, I'm basically killing time until I get the chance to finish my Olympus Has Fallen review, but so be it.

Scott Mendelson

Star Trek Into Darkness gets another weirdly generic trailer.

Isn't Star Trek supposed to be about star trekking?  Ya know, exploring strange new worlds, seeking new life and new civilizations, and possibly going where no man has gone before?  This may look like a decent action thriller, but it also feels like a painfully generic adventure that happens to be painted in Star Trek paint.  Benadict Cumberbatch shows up, Cumberbatch commits several acts of terrorism, Kirk goes after Cumberbatch.  I sincerely hope there is more to the story than that and there may very well be.  But what we've seen so far suggests the film boldly going where any number of sequels have gone before.  And, if I may, why oh why couldn't Paramount wait until next weekend to debut this with G.I. Joe: Retaliation?  Anyway, Star Trek Into Darkness opens May 15th in IMAX 3D and May 17th elsewhere domestically.  As always, we'll see...

Scott Mendelson  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Die Hard's oddest legacy: cheap action films...

This July will be Die Hard's 25th anniversary and much has already been written about its impact in Hollywood and its place among the top American action films of its time.  What sticks out 25 years later is not just that it made stars out of its leads (Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman) or revitalized the modern-day/non-science fiction action picture on the cusp of modern special effects advances, or that its character archetypes (regular guy hero versus larger-than-life "sophisticated" villain) basically changed the face of action cinema.  What sticks out is that Die Hard is the rare movie that basically created an entire sub-genre.  Call it "Die Hard on a/Die Hard in a", but Die Hard created a blue-print for an entire generation of cheap direct-to-video or direct-to-cable action pictures.  Using the Die Hard template, anyone could make an action picture with minimal expense.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Iron Man 3 gets a photoshop poster spectacular!

I was holding off on posting those lovely character posters for Iron Man 3 because I wanted to put them all in one post, with the presumption that Rebecca Hall would get her own poster as well.  Alas, Hall is a no-go both for her own poster as well as even getting billing on the main IMAX poster.  That is a bit odd as her character in "Extremis" is basically a co-lead while Guy Pearce's scientist um... it's a small part in the original comic book arc.  I'll let others discuss the usual gender boilerplate here (expanding the guy's role while seemingly minimizing the female character's role, keeping the women on the poster to no more than one, etc.), and merely point out that this is basically a giant mash-up of several prior character posters smushed into one image, which may remind fans of the Batman Forever poster campaign from 1995 (with the five character posters copied and pasted into the theatrical one-sheet).  At least no one is unleashing exploding farts like the last time around...  Anyway, since they are apparently done for now, I'm including the rest of the solid Iron Man 3 posters after the jump, including the general theatrical one-sheet.  Iron Man 3 opens overseas on April 25th and April 26th but not until May 3rd in America.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, March 18, 2013

Accidental ground-breaker: Batman & Robin (1997) catches the bad guy at the half-way point...

I've made several jokes about this over the last few months, but by now when that moment comes in Star Trek Into Darkness, we'll all be quietly snickering.  You know the moment: Benedict Cumberbatch  has been captured about halfway through the movie, and he stands isolated in his glass prison.  As he stands tall, full of arrogant confidence, he'll surely taunt our heroes with some kind of allegedly profound monologue about how A) He and Kirk/Spock aren't that different, B) Starfleet is not as wonderful an institution as they think it is, and/or C) Once Kirk and/or Spock have outlived their usefulness they will be tossed away or scape-goated for the good of the Federation.  And then, right on cue, Not-Kahn will totally bust his ass out of that glass prison, kill several random guards and possibly one major character (Pike?).  Because, holy shit, he totally planned on getting caught the whole time!  Yeah, the whole 'villain gets caught halfway through but escapes and escalates his evil' was old back when it started in... Batman and Robin?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Weekend Box Office: Oz tops twice, The Call tops Burt Wonderstone, and Spring Breakers explodes in limited release.

There is an amusing phenomenon, going back at least as long as I can remember, to underestimate the box office potential of films featuring actors of color.  We don't see it coming, we're shocked when it happens, and then studios don't actually factor this new information into their production slate.  Anyway, The Call was the top new release of the weekend, earning $17.2 million.  Yes the film played strongly among African Americans, at least partially because the movie bothered to feature a few (Halle Berry and Morris Chestnut among many others) in more than just token roles.  Tracking this debut compared to Berry's previous efforts is tough because she has had co-starring roles in stuff like Die Another Day ($47 million debut), The Flintstones ($29 million), and the X-Men trilogy ($54m, $85m, and $102m).  In terms of starring vehicles, this is bigger than the likes of Catwoman ($16 million), and A Perfect Stranger ($11 million), but below Gothica ($19 million).  The marketing smartly highlighted that it was a film about one woman rescuing another woman from peril, with no clear male lead.  It played 61% female and 53% over-30.  The picture cost just WWE just $13 million before selling the rights to Sony and earned a B+ from Cinemascore, so it may just have legs.  Even if its appeal is about "black audiences have nothing for them right now", Warner Bros' Jackie Robinson biopic 42 doesn't open until April 12th.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: The Call (2013) is much better than you were expecting, at least for the first hour.

The Call
95 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

For the first hour or so of The Call, you'll think you're watching a new B-movie classic.  The picture is staged as a typical 'special location' thriller.  We get a solid prologue, a decent chunk of the movie set during the actual situation we paid to see, and then, as must always be a the case, a finale set away from the prime location.  Speed had to eventually leave the bus, Shoot to Kill had to eventually get out of the mountains, and Red Eye couldn't just end on that plane.  It's how a film like this handles the eventual disembarking that determines its overall success.  Sadly, The Call blows the dismount by a considerable margin, trading plausible real-world tension for generic genre cliches.  But up until that time, it is a superior thriller, and a successful return to the somewhat lost art of what Roger Ebert liked to call the bruised-forearm movie.  For the first 2/3, The Call is a nearly perfect example of what it's trying to be.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, why we do praise the converted over the initially right?

I think it's terrific that Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio has come out in support of gay marriage.  I think it's notable that he came to this conclusion after his 21-year old son came out of the closet, as the more would-be homophobes are forced to actually put a human face on the theoretical 'other' of homosexuality the faster this remaining prejudice will go away. One of the major cornerstones to doing away with institutionalized racism was the white World War II soldiers who served alongside African-American soldiers and realized that they weren't lesser creatures.  But this news story ties into something that frankly I was going to write about on Tuesday to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.  In short, those in the mainstream media, especially in the beltway press, seem to reserve a level of respect for those who once were blind but now can see.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying & love the Veronica Mars film.

30,000 people donated an average of $64 during a several hour period yesterday, and thus we will be getting a Veronica Mars movie sometime next summer.  Creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell used Kickstarter to basically prove to Warner Bros. that there is indeed an interest in a continuation of the cult detective drama that ran for three low-rated seasons on the CW back in 2004-2007.  The deal was basically to raise $2 million in a month and Warner Bros. would agree to distribute and market the film, giving it a limited theatrical release and the various home-viewing options.  They hit their target at 5:55 pm this evening.  I made a bitchy joke earlier in the day about raising money to find domestic 'food insecurity' among American children by calling such an initiative 'Save Firefly!' or something to that effect.  My first instincts were ones of priorities and what this said about our 'entitlement culture'.  Upon reflection (I purposely didn't write anything immediately), I'm still not sure how I feel about this. This is indeed very interesting, it may even be *news*.  But is it good news overall?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) will make your laughter and interest disappear.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
100 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

Among its many other faults, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone makes a solid case for the old 'television is better than the movies' argument.  The film is written by four different screenwriters all swimming in television writing experience and directed by a man who has directed almost nothing but television since 1990 and all of their various television projects are likely, by default, better than this film.  It features two actresses (Olivia Wilde and Gillian Jacobs) who did shine or are currently shining in well-developed three-dimensional roles on episodic television and uses them here merely as props for the boys to screw or ogle.   It contains a script seemingly written by committee that features less wit and smarts than any one of the 38 episodes of 30 Rock  by director Don Scardino.  But putting aside the film vs. TV debate, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is an inexplicable missed opportunity, showcasing subject matter that isn't the least bit timely and highlighting the unmerited 'redemption' of a pointlessly horrible human being whose downfall is completely his own fault.  More importantly, save for Jim Carrey's supporting turn and a few grace notes along the way, it isn't very funny.

Watch/Discuss: Kick Ass 2 gets a red-band trailer.

I'm not allowed to post my The Incredible Burt Wonderstone review quite yet, but I will say that this film and the one opening Friday marks an interesting turn for Jim Carrey, theoretically eschewing the pure star vehicle in favor of broadly comic "I'm just here to be funny" supporting turns.  Since Carrey never really had that portion of his career where he slowly broke into lead vehicles (like for example Will Ferrell), this is pretty new territory for him and something I look forward to as we near the 20th anniversary of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective next January (congrats - you're old).  Anyway, the rest of the trailer seems fine, although I can't help wondering if this will be a classic case of 'rooting against action', where we want to maintain the happy ending of the first film, with Dave living happily with his father and dating Katie (who happily is returning) while young Mindy gets the childhood she was previously denied.  


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