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.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Speculation: Disney's "Avengers" endgame for the current round of live-action Fairy Tale Theatre?

What do you get when combine the Wizard of Oz, Alice from Wonderland, the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella?  Disney has announced plans to produce a "darker" live-action reboot of Beauty and the Beast, currently titled "The Beast".  Now putting aside the alleged Guillermo del Toro Beauty and the Beast that was intended to star Emma Watson, this is yet another Disney project that basically takes one of their beloved animated films or (in the case of Oz: The Great and Powerful) a beloved family classic and make a Disney live-action franchise-starter out of it.  We've seen movement on a Kenneth Branagh-helmed Cinderella, which ironically was supposed to star Emma Watson until she dropped out over the last couple days.  Filming is underway on Robert Stromberg's Maleficent, which will star Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning in a villain-centric retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  Disney tried to do something with Snow White before bowing out due to the two other 2012 adaptations, but it may try again.  So what is the point, in the long-run, of these fairy-tale revamps?

See it early? See it at midnight? See it on DVD? On how we see movies and how those choices affect our critical analysis.

The word leaking out from last weekend's screening of next month's Evil Dead remake is generally positive, with tepid enthusiasm blending in with absolutely insane raves and foaming-at-the-mouth excitement.  Of course, there was equal amounts of chatter that the venue for this premiere, a packed crowd of demographically perfect horror junkies on opening night of the SXSW Film Festival, had something to do with the uber-positive reception. I can't imagine a more receptive audience than the one that saw the picture in Austin last weekend and I can't imagine the frenzied anticipation and the whole 'I saw it first!' mentality didn't affect the reception. I had a chance to see Oz: The Great and Powerful at the All Media screening on Monday night but passed because I knew my kid might want to see it and I didn't want to keep her up until 10:30pm on a school night. So I waited until Friday. I bought two tickets to a 2D 7:15pm showing and picked up my kid from school acccordingly.  She liked the movie, and the packed audience went nuts for it too.  I'd be lying if the circumstances of said viewing didn't perhaps allow me to paper over the film's very obvious storytelling issues. I got to see a big event movie on opening night with a packed audience with my excited daughter in tow, which for a film nerd like myself is the very definition of having your cake and eating it too.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weekend Box Office: Oz: The Great and Powerful summons $80 million, with all signs pointing towards a leggy run.

I've said this before, but one of the problems with modern box office analysis is that it treats studio tracking numbers, which are supposed to be internal figures that can be used to adjust marketing in the run up to release, as ironclad box office predictions.  More often than not, pundits use tracking in a way that creates a preemptive doom-and-gloom scenario where a new release is painted as a box office turkey before it even opens *or* its used to give unrealistic expectations to a new release so that studios are then forced to defend what is actually a solid debut.  Such is the case with Oz: The Great and Powerful (trailer/posters).  The $215 million Disney prequel debuted with a strong $80.3 million this weekend.  Alas, due to rumblings and arbitrary presumptions that the film would open with as much as $100 million over the weekend, mostly due to the project's token similarities with Alice In Wonderland, Disney may now be forced to defend what is easily the biggest opening of 2013 by more than double and the third-biggest March debut ever behind Alice In Wonderland ($116 million) and The Hunger Games ($153 million).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness gets an action-packed new trailer.

The only spoiler bit is at around 1:02, where Captain Pike has some facial scars that I don't recall him having at the end of the first Star Trek (he was of course seriously injured, but I don't recall scarring). Perhaps Pike gets those scars when Cumberbatch escapes from his glass prison at the halfway mark, because "He planned to get caught the whole time!". Otherwise, this is a quick (78 seconds) and breezy action-packed trailer.  It's nice that they aren't focusing as much on Benedict Cumberbatch's mystery villain (I have a theory on that, broached by a friend of mine and backed up by what we've seen thus far, but I'm not sharing in case I'm right) and also showing off that the film isn't all gloom and misery this time around. The initial trailers tried to sell the film as a generic 'dark sequel' or The Dark Knight meets Skyfall meets Revenge of the Sith.  This new trailer plays in the Return of the Jedi/Tron sandbox with phasers set for swashbuckling adventure. 

The good news/bad news regarding the decidedly un-feminist female characters in Oz: The Great and Powerful.

Full-on spoiler warning...

Unfortunately pretty much everything I feared about Oz: The Great and Powerful, right from the second trailer, turned out to be true, at least from a gender perspective.  It is indeed about three seemingly powerful women sitting around and waiting for a random man who fell out of the sky to not only attempt to save Oz but, more importantly, shape all three of their respective destinies.  The film also equates beauty with virtue in a rather explicit fashion, with somewhat laughable scenes of Rachel Weisz's Evanora complaining of jealousy over Michelle Williams 'pretty face' seemingly oblivious to the fact that said evil witch is played by *Rachel Weisz* (spoiler: Rachel Weisz is insanely hot). It's not just that Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams play seemingly strong female characters who constantly yap about needing some prophesied male wizard to swoop down and save their asses. The biggest problem in the film is that it allows its feeble and somewhat selfish male hero to basically define them and their actions.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dumb parent worries: Will my kid get spooked by PG-13 trailers like After Earth in front of PG-rated movies like Oz?

I made an offhand joke a couple days ago about all of the big summer release trailers being dropped online and presumably into theater this week.  I'm taking my daughter to see Oz: The Great and Powerful tonight and I'm curious to see which trailers are attached to PG-rated Disney family adventure.  Obviously The Hangover part III is probably not going to make an appearance.  But what about the more mainstream PG-13 entertainments like Iron Man 3 or After Earth?  So will the first 15-20 minutes or so of my daughter's moviegoing experience consist of a series of trailers for big summer releases that she can't see?  Will I have to explain that "No, sweetie, *this* Iron Man movie is for adults."  I've had to do that before, like when when she spotted the DVD of Snow White and the Huntsman at Best Buy, and I always feel like an idiot when doing so.  The other thought that comes to mind is a 12 year old news story, one which I gave little thought to at the time.  

Oz: The Great and Powerful earns $2 million at 10pm/midnight.

Let's do the quick midnight math, shall we?  Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful earned an impressive $2 million at 10pm/midnight last night.  Now this isn't a geek-friendly comic book sequel or young-adult literary property in the vein of The Hunger Games, so midnight frontloading should be pretty limited.  That's a bit less than the $3.5 million earned by Alice In Wonderland and larger than the $1.6 million earned by Snow White and the Huntsman.  If we were talking about Thor 2: The Dark World, a $2 million 10pm/midnight number would mean around $40 million for the weekend, with an expected 5% of the weekend represented in advance showings, with potential for even harsher front-loading   But for a 'normal' movie, we're usually looking at between 2% and 4% representing the midnight number.  And let's be honest, this thing is going to explode on Saturday if only due to the lack of family films in the marketplace.  So offhand I'd wager a 3% 10pm/midnight take for a $66 million Fri-Sun debut, as Alice in Wonderland also did 3% of its $116 million weekend at midnight (as did Snow White and the Huntsman in a $56 million debut).  But the lack of family fare could mean an even bigger growth during weekend matinees and the film arguably has less 'must see now' factor due to the fact that Burton is a more mainstream name than Raimi.  So let's just call it 2.5% at 10pm/midnight for a $80 million weekend take.  But don't be too surprised to see it flirting with $100 million by Sunday.

Scott Mendelson  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

M. Night Shayamalan's After Earth gets a second promising trailer.

Cautious optimism is the phrase here.  This looks good.  This looks like a solid and visually creative piece of big-budget science-fiction.  Will Smith generally doesn't make awful movies.  Jaden Smith held his own three years ago against an Oscar-worthy Jackie Chan in The Karate Kid.  And M. Night Shyamalan?  Well, one can only hope that this seemingly work-for-hire project allow him to find his groove again, especially with Will Smith in the producer's chair able and willing to tell him "no".  I know I say this a lot, but I still believe in M. Night Shyamalan.  The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are two of the best films of the last fifteen years.  Signs is top-notch popcorn entertainment and even The Village and Lady in the Water have things worth noting (potent political subtexts and a powerful musical score in the former, a haunting Paul Giamatti performance in the other).  But come what may, even if After Earth turns out to be another miss, even if Shayamalan never makes another good movie again, so be it.  M. Night Shayamalan made The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.  Nobody can take that away from him.  Anyway, After Earth opens on June 7th, in IMAX no less.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Dead Man Down (2013) shoots itself in the foot with a moronic and wrongheaded finale.

Dead Man Down
110 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Up until the very end of the picture, Dead Man Down is a mostly serviceable crime drama.  It has fine work from Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace along with worthwhile supporting turns by Terrance Howard and the always appreciated Domonic Cooper.  It doesn't set out to turn heads or reinvent the wheel, but it tells its grim story of revenge and tortured romance with just enough aplomb to merit a casual viewing.  But oh that ending... I have no idea what screenwriter J.H. Wyman or director Niels Arden Opley were thinking and I can theoretically give them the benefit of the doubt that they just couldn't decide on a thoughtful finale.  I'd like to think they just gave up and went on 'bad screenwriting autopilot'.  It's frightening to think that these two professionals thought that the last reel constituted a worthwhile conclusion to their otherwise worthwhile yarn.  It's tough to review a movie where your biggest gripe involves the very end without actually revealing what happens at the end, so maybe we'll get to that later.

The Hangover III gets a promising, if potentially misleading trailer.

It's tempting to be somewhat intrigued by the darker tone of this initial teaser for The Hangover part III.  But let us recall that the first act or so of The Hangover part II teased a proverbial Heart of Darkness journey only to cop out during its second half into a tiresome retread of the first film.  Still, if this is really the series finale, then Todd Phillips arguably has complete creative freedom to make whatever movie he wants, including the kind of movie that I'd argue he wanted to make last time around.  Still, this does look a little better than the last film and John Gooddman's inclusion is promising (I'd argue Paul Giamatti was the best thing about the last time around).  Three final thoughts.  First of all, the final gag is a genuine winner.  Seocnd of all, what exactly is the logic of Warner Bros. not waiting a week and attaching this to their The Incredible Burt Wonderstone?  Did they rush it out so they could attach it to prints of Oz: The Great and Poweful? Finally, I can only hope (foolishly I know) that Warner Bros. chooses not to cut any more trailers for this picture, as I can't imagine anyone not knowing whether or not they want to see the movie at this point regardless.  Let's hope they keep whatever surprises the film has in store out of the marketing for as long as they can.  The Hangover part III opens Memorial Day weekend.  As always, we'll see.

Scott Mendelson

PS - I love the poster they dropped yesterday.  I hope whomever drew that Enemy Mine poster back in 1985 gets royalties.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Skyfall director Sam Mendes will not be helming the next 007 adventure. Why Martin Campbell should return to the fold...

Okay, so Sam Mendes is officially out.  There was rumbling over the last few weeks that Sam Mendes would actual But as of today, Mendes politely bowed out of the running.  He will not return to helm the next James Bond picture following his phenomenally successful Skyfall.  I'm sure I will be but one of a million people offering their thoughts on who should helm the next 007 picture. It's tempting to once again half-jokingly offer up Terrance Malick, Warner Herzog, Sophia Coppola, and Michael Haneke as go-to picks.  But the choice is obvious.  The name is Campbell, Martin Campbell.  He directed two of the very best 007 pictures of the post-Connery era, if not outright ever (it's no secret where I stand on this... Goldfinger can suck it).  He revitalized the franchise twice with two different Bond actors in the last 18 years.  The stain of Green Lantern leaves him in a position of 'needing a hit', and there is no reason to presume he won't knock it out of the park for a third time.  But more importantly, doing the follow-up to Skyfall gives Campbell a new set of tools to play with in the 007 sandbox.  This time he'll just get to play with few restraints, without the burden of franchise rebirth.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pity... Universal cancels Oblivion's early IMAX release.

Having rather loathed Tron: Legacy, I've had to work myself up in order to get excited about Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion.  Yes, Tom Cruise usually makes sure that his big-scale pictures are a cut above and yes the film looks better with each trailer, but the biggest cause for hope was its release schedule.  The film's national release was set for April 19th, but the film was also going a full week early in IMAX only, giving paying audiences a week-long sneak preview in IMAX and other larger-screen formats.  But alas, that promising move by Universal has been cancelled.  Chalk it up to Cruise wanting to do international press for the film's overseas debut on the 12th and the film's US debut on the 19th, chalk it up to Universal wanting an extra week of play for their 3D reissue of Jurassic Park on April 12th, but audiences will not be seeing Oblivion: The IMAX Experience one week early after all.  Color me genuinely disappointed.

Bigger isn't always better. Why Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may represent the future of big-scale studio movies.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how something released this year or perhaps last year might be a signal for the future of the would-be blockbuster, a film whose respective success would spawn a decade or so of like-minded would-be tentpoles. What if I were to tell you that a possible template for future would-be blockbusters had already arrived this very year?  What if I were to tell you that the future of big-scale filmmaking may be none-other than Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters?  Laugh if you wish, but let's take a look at what the film represents.

Iron Man 3 gets a final and frankly terrific trailer...

I'll add commentary later today.  But for the moment, this looks like a pretty terrific action thriller that just happens to be a superhero threequel.  It's good to see that the bad guy isn't just targeting Stark this time around, and this may in fact dive head-first into the politics that the second film only skirted around.  Could this finally break the curse of the comic book part 3?  Share your thoughts below...

Scott Mendelson

Monday, March 4, 2013

Holy sh*t!! Harrison Ford signs on for Anchorman 2...

If you watched Conan O'Brian over the years, you know that Mr. Ford is actually a pretty funny guy.  He has a droll and rather deadpan sense of humor that generally came out best on O'Brian's couch, probably because Conan never pried into his private life. He's made no secret of his desire to do comedy and I've spent the last 15 years or so wondering why he never got that call from the Farrely Bros or whatever dominant comic filmmakers were occupying the industry at a given moment.  Hell, the serio-comedic melodramas of Judd Apatow would be a perfect fit for someone like Ford.  But it appears that the call has finally been made and answered, because Ford is in fact joining the cast of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

The lesson of Jack the Giant Slayer: Delaying failure and fixing the unfix-able is expensive and often counter-productive.

As most of you know, Warner Bros. intended to release Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Killer in June of 2012 before pulling it from release, ordering reshoots and the like, and calling it a more kid-friendly Jack the Giant Slayer.  I don't know what the film's budget was prior to the date change and related reshoots, but it was probably a lot less than the $195 million that they ended up with.  And for what?  The film opened this weekend to $28 million.  If patterns hold for this kind of release, it'll likely top out at $70 million domestic at best and around $250 million worldwide as a best case scenario.  But point being, how much better of an opening could Warner Bros. expecting for a half kid-friendly/half dark-and-violent retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk starring absolutely no one of any box office worth? How much worse of an opening would Warner Bros. be looking at had it just gone ahead and opened it in June of 2012 as they intended?  Is it really worth the extra tens-of-millions of dollars that they ended up spending on the picture? Delaying the inevitable oftentimes merely gets you the same result at a greater cost.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Weekend Box Office part II: Stoker scores in limited while three wide newbies tank.

The best film of the weekend also had the best per-screen average of the weekend.  Fox Searchlight's Stoker earned $22,689 on each of its seven screens for a $158,000 opening weekend.  Now any number of films can open strong in limited only to tank as it goes wider, so now it's just a question of whether Fox Searchlight even bothers to expand it and how larger audiences react to what is clearly not a mainstream thriller. But for those in the mood for what it offers, it's delicious.  The other three newbies were, um, The Last Exorcism part II, 21 and Over, and Phantoms.  Let's make this quick.  The Last Exorcism part II was a case of CBS Films picking up a franchise that Lionsgate smartly knew was a one-and-done affair.  The original, which opened to $20 million in late 2010, was actually quite good, arguably among the best found footage horror films of the modern era.  But it wasn't something that demanded a sequel and its $8 million opening weekend should be a giant warning sign to the financial backers of Insidious 2 and Sinister 2, although if both films can keep their budgets similar to the $1-3 million that their respective predecessors cost, then they'll be profitable regardless. Even this new one cost just $5 million, so it will still make money.

Weekend Box Office part I: Fee Fi Fo Flop: Jack (the Giant Slayer) bombs harder than even John Carter.

Pretty much everything I said last March about John Carter applies to Jack the Giant Slayer.  There are a few differences.  Jack and the Beanstalk is technically a well-known property and Bryan Singer had the live-action track record that Andrew Stanton did not.  But otherwise it is pretty much the same fallacy with pretty much the same result: $200 million cost plus who knows how much in marketing for $27.9 million on opening weekend.  No stars, source material no one really cared to see onscreen, marketing that didn't convince them that they should, a release date that put them within one week of a likely juggernaut, and mixed reviews.  Like John Carter and Battleship, Jack the Giant Slayer was basically a $200 million variation on 'Generic Blockbuster: The Movie'.  Unlike Disney and Universal respectively, Warner Bros. seemed to see this one coming well in advance.  They changed the release date from June 2012 to this weekend and changed the title from Jack the Giant Killer to 'appeal to families'.  Yet they still spent $200 million on a would-be family film that I can't take my daughter to because it's PG-13 and (allegedly) features slightly toned down Lord of the Rings type violence. To be fair, some of that $200 million cost was due to reshoots and the date change, but why bother?  Warner spent untold extra millions to get the exact same terrible result they got this weekend.  And really the film's cost is as usual the prime offender.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Movie stars aren't an endangered species, they are more vital than ever in the $200 million fantasy tentpole era.

There are $200 million fantasy spectaculars opening within two weeks of each other at the moment.  If the $400,000 10pm/midnight figures for Jack the Giant Slayer is any indication, Warner Bros. is about to have its very own John Carter/Battleship ($25 million debut, $65 million finish, around $250 million worldwide at best).  Conversely Walt Disney has let the embargo wall fall for its Sam Raimi-helmed Oz: The Great and Powerful, which is allegedly tracking to open at around $75 million.  There are a number of reasons why Sam Raimi's fairy tale-redux is prime to perform better than Bryan Singer's such attempt. For one thing, I can take my daughter to the one that isn't PG-13 and doesn't involve giants biting peoples' heads off and/or setting them on fire.  Also helping is the strength and confidence of Disney's marketing versus Warner's "we know we laid a financial egg" trepidation.  But perhaps most importantly, Oz: The Great and Powerful has actual movie stars.  What?  I thought the era of the movie star was gone and the proverbial movie star was a relic of a bygone era?  Well... it's actually only half-true.


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