Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Canada's Cineplex Entertainment Launches Autism-Friendly Screenings

Well, this is a much better idea than theatres where text messages are projected on-screen. Cineplex Entertainment, which operates 160 theatres across Canada, has partnered with Autism Speaks Canada for a special screening series for moviegoers with autism spectrum disorders. Via the CBC, these Sensory Friendly Screenings take place at 12 theatres and will feature "2D projection, increased auditorium lighting, lower volume and smaller crowds." Moviegoers will also be able to bring in outside food, and a "calm zone" will be provided for those audience members who need to step away for a bit.

The series starts on 2/14 with The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (our review); future movies include Cinderella (4/4), DreamWorks' Home (4/18) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (5/16). Screenings will typically take place ever 4-6 weeks, all on Saturdays at 10:30am, before the theatres open to all patrons. The cost of all tickets will be the child price for those with autism and their families, and tickets will go on sale the Tuesday before each screening date. Check Cineplex's website to stay updated on future screenings and for a complete list of participating theatres.

Cineplex is only the latest theatre chain to take this leap forward in accessibility; AMC Theatres has been providing Sensory Friendly Films for years now, with special screenings spread across thirty states, plus Washington DC. In addition to high lights and low sound, "audience members are invited to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!" Upcoming screenings include The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2/14), Home (3/28), Tomorrowland (5/30), Minions (7/18) and Pixar's The Good Dinosaur (12/5).

(via FilmDrunk)

Monday, February 9, 2015

'SpongeBob SquarePants' Exceeds Expectations; 'Jupiter Ascending' and 'Seventh Son' Flop

It was a foregone conclusion that The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water would finally relieve American Sniper of the number one spot at the box office, but no one thought it would be by quite this much: The nostalgia-heavy animated film made $56 million on its opening weekend, for the fifth-highest February opening ever. Generally positive reviews helped, as did a savvy marketing campaign that emphasized how SpongeBob, Patrick and the rest would be going up to the "real world" in a CGI/live-action hybrid segment that actually didn't make up all that much of the running time.

American Sniper dropped one spot to number two, its $24.1 million weekend gross bringing its total so far to $282.6 million domestically. Box Office Mojo notes that that exceeds the combined grosses of the eight other Best Picture Oscar nominees.

Coming in third was the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending, which earned a scant $19 million. That might not be so bad if the budget weren't a whopping $176 million, but alas. Andy and Lana should be getting some stink-eye from Warner Bros. execs today. Still, at least it's not Seventh Son, which couldn't even crack the $10 million barrier; Universal's wannabe fantasy epic made only $7.1 million on 2,875 screens. Rounding out the top five was Paddington, like SpongeBob a somewhat surprisingly well-reviewed kid's movie (though SpongeBob shouldn't hold out for that BAFTA nomination). Its $5.3 million weekend gross brings its total to $57.2 million.

Among new limited releases, writer/director/actor Rik Swartzwelder's Old Fashioned--an indie being marketed as a Christian alternative to next weekend's 50 Shades of Grey--earned a respectable $40,800 on three screens, proving once again the economic viability of faith-based cinema. The documentary Ballet 422 earned $26,000 on two screens, and the dismally reviewed Love, Rosie got $16,200 on 15 screens.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Luke Skywalker Will Destroy You If You Text Or Talk at the Alamo Drafthouse

When Luke Skywalker tells you not to talk or text during a movie, you'd best listen. Or else, in the words of this anti-talking PSA, he'll "unleash an entire Secret Service made up of insane clowns, brandishing lightsabers, and he will have them completely destroy you." And this is the Alamo Drafthouse, famous for their complete and utter willingness to throw people out for cell phone use. I wouldn't bet on them playing around.

'SpongeBob SquarePants' Is Coming for 'American Sniper'

From his pineapple under the sea, SpongeBob SquarePants is poised to knock American Sniper out of the number one spot at the box office after a record-breaking run. Last weekend saw American Sniper's gross drop approximately 52% to $30 million. It'll keep dropping (everyone's seen it already--not like there's a lot of January competition), leaving room for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which should easily open north of $30 million anyway.

The real question is whether American Sniper will be able to grab the number two spot. Its only real competition is the Wachowski siblings' Jupiter Ascending, which co-stars The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne in a scenery-chomping role he probably wishes people were seeing after the Oscars. The Wachowskis' cachet and Jupiter being an action-heavy sci-fi flick should help it, but the reviews (including ours) have been overwhelmingly negative. If word of mouth sets moviegoers off, Jupiter might be relegated to spot number three. It and Sniper are both expected to earn somewhere in the $20 million neighborhood.

Interestingly, Redmayne's fellow Oscar frontrunner Julianne Moore also has a stinker of a movie coming out this weekend: Seventh Son, which has been languishing on the shelf for years now and is finally being released by Universal Pictures, averting its gaze and whistling innocently like they don't know what this generic-looking fantasy movie is, golly gee! The reviews have been even worse than Jupiter Ascending's--an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to Jupiter's 24%. It probably won't crack $10 million. Moore and Redmayne should go to a bar together and get hammered.

Among the limited release movies hitting theatres this weekend in New York and/or LA are the documentaries Ballet 422 and 1971, Boy Meets Girl and "lost" indie melodrama Losing Ground.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Heritage Auctions Lets You Own a Piece of LAIKA Animation History

Detail shot of an original Coraline puppet.
LAIKA, in the humble opinion of this FJI writer, is the best animation studio working today. Disney and, increasingly, Pixar can be inconsistent with the quality they deliver, DreamWorks films are generally solid but rarely blow-your-socks-off amazing and Sony Pictures Animation released The Smurfs. And sure, LAIKA hasn't had many opportunities to fall on their face when they've only put out three films. Stop-motion animation takes time. Still, the trio of Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls are a trio of modern masterpieces, combining striking visual style with humor, drama and important messages tackled in a more nuanced way than even many so-called "adult" films would dare.

Fellow LAIKA lovers will have a chance to get their grubby paws on puppets, original artwork, unused poster designs, props and more from the studios' trio of films when Heritage Auctions puts nearly three hundred lots up for bidding in Beverly Hills next Thursday, February 12th.

Heritage brought part of their "The Art of LAIKA" collection to their New York City office this week, and the FJI office was fortunate enough to take a field trip and check out the goods. There was the Other Mother puppet from Coraline, a stunning Angry Aggie concept art piece from ParaNorman and Archibald Snatcher's Boxtrolls extermination truck, among many other wonders. All puppets sold in the auction, explains Heritage's Director of Animation Art Jim Lentz, were used in production of the film. They're not cheap, so LAIKA doesn't make them just for show and tell.

The limited nature of LAIKA's offerings means "There will be not be a second Coraline auction. There will not be a second ParaNorman auction," warns Lentz In fact, LAIKA wasn't sure they even had original art for Coraline kicking around until Lentz asked for it. They dug some up from a crate in LAIKA's descriptively named "Storage Facility by the Swamp," and yes, it is by a swamp.

"The Art of LAIKA" has led to an unprecedented level of interest from the public, both on social media and in-person; Lentz describes people coming up to him and thanking him for the chance to see part of LAIKA's archives when Heritage made a stop in Dallas. Indeed, some of the objects up for auction are breathtakingly detailed when viewed them up close, like the puppet of Lord Portley-Rind (left) from The Boxtrolls. With all the hand stitching, you'd think LAIKA was preparing for a high-class fashion show. Even things that are part of the background, like a manhole cover or cheese vendor's stand, are painstakingly given details that most moviegoers won't notice, like a town logo on the former and a board with cheese prices on the latter.

"The studio's legions of die-hard fans regularly ask LAIKA for the opportunity to own some of the masterfully engineered puppets, props and other artwork used to make these beloved films," says Lentz. "So the studio is finally offering a specially curated collection of items from its production archives. This is the chance that those fans, and animation and film collectors of all stripes, have been waiting for."

ParaNorman Face Concept Sketch Original
by character designer Heidi Smith
For those with money to spend, you can bid one of nine ways; early Internet bidding ends on February 11th, and the auction itself starts on February 12th. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Los Angeles-based charity organization The Art of Elysium, which has as its mission "enriching the lives of artists and critically ill children" by hosting arts-based programs for hospitalized youth. If you're in the Los Angeles area from February 10-12, stop by Heritage Auctions Beverly Hills to see selected items in-person.

For more information, visit the Heritage Auctions website. You can see details and pictures of all the lots here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

'American Sniper' Has a Super Super Bowl Weekend, New Releases Not So Much

Super Bowl weekend doesn't tend to be a particularly good one for movies, but American Sniper has shown yet again that it doesn't care much for existing records. Its $31.85 million weekend haul is the highest-grossing for a Super Bowl weekend ever, beating out the $31.1 million earned by 2008's Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour--which, by the way, earned that amount on its opening weekend. For Sniper, this was its fourth in wide release. So far, it's earned $248.9 million, though the 51% drop from last week doesn't look good for its continued box office dominance.

The Loft
This weekend, though, it had no trouble, as the three new wide releases all flopped. Found footage time travel flick Project Almanac made only $8.5 million in 2,893 theatres, enough to put it in spot number three behind Paddington (weekend gross: $8.5 million; total gross: $50.5 million). Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer's Black or White landed at number four with a gross of $6.4 million in 1,823 theatres. And The Loft, this weekend's biggest disappointment, couldn't even crack the top five--its $2.8 million in 1,841 theatres barely let it squeak into number ten spot. The number five movie was Jennifer Lopez's erotic thriller The Boy Next Door (weekend gross: $6 million, total gross: $24.6 million), which dropped off nearly 60 percent from its debut last weekend.

After five weeks in limited release, J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year expanded to 818 theatres and saw its box office increase to $1.7 million, for a total so far of $3.1 million. New in limited release, Chinese action comedy Running Man and Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee Timbuktu earned $205,000 and $50,000, respectively. And the theatrical release of two episodes of "Game of Thrones" made $1.5 million on 205 IMAX screens, enough to land it at spot number 15. It's not a ton of money, but the amount that Warner Bros. and HBO needed to pay for marketing was low, so, as far as theatrical exhibition experiments go, it seems to have been a successful one.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sundance Wrap Up: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Best of Enemies, plus 5 Takeaways from festival's 2015 Edition.

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival runs through Sunday –with major awards still to be handed out- but Wednesday marked the final day of my Sundance, bringing my festival tally to 26 movies seen throughout 6.5 glorious days. I unfortunately missed a couple of films I was hoping to catch up with: James C. Strouse’s People, Places, Things, playing in the US Dramatic Competition category, Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground; a groundbreaking and fittingly noisemaking documentary (playing as part of Doc Premieres) about the rape epidemic on college campuses, as well as Noah Baumbach’s latest collaboration with his muse Greta Gerwig, Mistress America, which played to great reviews in the festival’s Spotlight section. But one can’t see it all, and it’s always good leaving something to look forward to in the future.

On my final day, I made a point of catching up with a few documentaries; a segment of the festival I admittedly pushed to the sidelines for a few days. Among them is Bobcat Goldthwait’s Call Me Lucky, a powerful portrait of the sharp-tongued comedian Barry Crimmins. Having survived sexual abuse at a young age, Crimmins turned his childhood trauma into essential activism in support of children both suffering and in danger of similar sexual abuse; especially in the wake of unmonitored online chat-rooms that enabled criminal activity around child porn while profiting companies such as AOL during the mid 90s. Welcome To Leith, from directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, proved to be just as frightening as Rodney Ascher’s Nightmare, in recounting a small town’s singular stand against white supremacists and Neo-Nazis (led by Craig Cobb) trying to take over the land and government of the town. Welcome to Leith, eerily spotlighting challenging questions rooted in freedom of speech for all, is uncomfortable and shocking to watch and proved to be one of this year’s essentials. The final US Documentary Competition title I caught up with was Best of Enemies, from directors Morgan Neville (Academy Award winning director of Twenty Feet from Stardom) and Robert Gordon, on the debates of Conservative William F. Buckley and Democrat Gore Vidal that skyrocketed ABC’s ratings in 1968 and launched political punditry on TV. Balancing both sides with a crackerjack sense of pace, the immensely entertaining Best Of Enemies (bought by Magnolia and Participant Media) is not only one of my favorite films of this year, but also a timely film that prescribes mutual understanding for both sides of the debate, in the (almost) eve of a presidential election.

Probably the biggest film to report back on from my Wednesday schedule is Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. A strong contender to win the Audience Award in the Dramatic Competition category in a couple of days, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a teenage weepie in the tradition of The Fault in Our Stars; and a celebration and romancing of cinematic love forming at a young age (everyone has their own analogies here, but it made me think of Garth Jennings' Son of Rambow somehow.) Adapted from Jesse Andrews’ novel by Andrews himself, the story is about Greg Gaines (the “Me” of the title, played by Thomas Mann), a high-school student and a fan of European Cinema along with his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler). Forced by his mother to hang out with Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a school friend who’s just been diagnosed with cancer, Greg unexpectedly forms a real friendship with her and decides to make a movie for her with Earl’s help (side note here that the duo often re-title Criterion films with humor –for instance, Citizen Kane becomes Senior Citizen Cane- and make short pastiches of them.) As tough it is to hold your ground against a festival darling, I must admit Me and Earl and the Dying Girl didn’t have the same emotional impact on me, as it apparently did on many others. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, to me, seemed a lot more interested in proving his knowledge of cinema with initially charming yet increasingly repetitive cinematic references -from Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God (hint: study up your Herzog prior to seeing Gomez-Rejon’s film), to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy and many others- than using these references in favor of the film’s narrative. It was all a bit too self-congratulatory in context, and quickly became trivial instead of inspirational. Yet, the bigger problem for me was the film having very little time for Earl (his name is IN the title after all), and even Rachel (as the “Dying Girl”) in building them as fully-fledged characters. Especially Earl was disposed of rather abruptly in the story, becoming (along with Rachel) not so much more than an instrument on Greg’s path of self-discovery (and eventual college application.) I don’t mean to sound heartless here, and I give the film a lot of credit for trying to tell the story of a true friendship (rather than romantically involving Greg and Rachel), yet this didn't add up to more than a quirky, textbook Sundance movie for me, about a male teenager finding his place in life. It will be talked about for sure, both positively and with anger –especially watch for potential think pieces on the unfortunate depiction of Earl- that some I have spoken to following Wednesday’s screening voiced.

With the festival almost behind us, there are many topics and trends that stood out. Here is my recap of the most prominent topics that took over the streets of Park City during the previous week.

1. Acquisitions galore!
Trades and online film outlets alike were rolling in ecstasy just a few days ago when incorrect news of a $12 Million sale (of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, to Fox Searchlight) spread like wildfire. The number was corrected, with almost two thirds of it shaved off, however the 2015 edition of the festival still played host to quite a number of grand sales; Anne Thompson said in an article that “The Sundance Market is starting to look like the old days” over at her blog at Thompson and Hollywood. Among the notable sales are John Crowley’s Brooklyn, which went to Fox Searchlight for $9 million, Dope, grabbed by Open Road and Sony for $7 Million, and The Bronze, scooped up by Relativity for $3 Million. A24, Magnolia, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics all bought festival hits (with the first three closing on multiple deals). Check out Hollywood Reporter’s comprehensive guide to this year’s Sundance sales

2. Coming of Age: Still a favorite Sundance genre.
Yes, there is that title again. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But it needs to be mentioned here, as it proved Sundance just loves watching children and teenagers come of age. Under this banner, notable festival favorites are Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's Ten Thousand Saints and even Chloé Zhao’s quietly-played competition entry Songs My Brothers Taught Me as well as Matt Sobel's simmering Take Me to the River.

Marielle Heller (Source: Getty Images)
3. An exciting crop of female storytellers is emerging, with movies about women on the horizon.
In a recent interview with Variety, Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard and Michael Barker spoke of female voices of Sundance, having just grabbed the distribution rights to Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which frankly explores female sexually –a topic that is rather poorly served in mainstream cinema. Bernard said “It’s the year of the woman,” and he is clearly on to something. From the opening night movie The Bronze, to titles like Brooklyn, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Witch, Unexpected, Advantageous and hot-button topic documentary The Hunting Ground, stories led by and/or made by women generated a considerable amount of the buzz on the ground, generating much hope for gender diversity in film for the years ahead.

Duplass Brothers.
Photo: Chelsea Lauren
(Getty Images for Sundance)
4. The blurring lines between Film & TV: also a Sundance topic.
It was voiced during the Day 1 press conference that the Sundance institute champions storytellers not only in writing feature-length projects, but also in creating episodic content. With a wealth of talent trying their hand on both film and TV, and innovative TV shows taking up the lion's share of the popular culture, it was only a matter of time that the Sundance Institute further blurred the line between two mediums. To perhaps no one’s surprise, Mark Duplass –a perennial Sundance kid, having executive producer credits on three of this year’s titles (The Bronze, Tangerine, The Overnight) and having brought the animated series Animals to the festival along with his brother Jay Duplass- has made a deal with Sundance in producing an independent TV series. “This is a brand new thing, it’s never been done before,” said Duplass (reported by USA Today), noting that he has always been interested in making television independently, using the same model as independent film.

5. There is this thing called “sex.” It’s going to be big.
I remember my first Sundance Film Festival in 2013, when Robert Redford referred to “sex” as a thematic element to pay attention to. And he was certainly on point with titles such as Hannah Fidel's A Teacher and Anne Fontaine's Adore (formerly titled Two Mothers) among others that year. After a relatively sterile 2014, we are in the presence of an even more sexually-charged Sundance this year, starting with the outrageous sex scene of the opening night film The Bronze that sent shock waves through the Eccles Theater to an instantly hilarious effect on Thursday night. From frank encounters and full frontals (with prosthetics) of The Overnight, freewheeling affairs of Sleeping with Other People and Knock, Knock, and the groundbreaking take on female sexuality of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Sundance 2015 certainly dialed up the heat in the snowy mountains of Utah and set a high bar against the increasingly sterile Hollywood mainstream, threatening to make the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey look tame in comparison.