Friday, December 21, 2007

Box Office Outlook: Mount Rushmore Has All The Answers

By Katey Rich

There are so many bad Christmas-related mixed metaphors to be made about this weekend's releases. The studios have left a bounty of presents under our tree! Santa's sleigh is filled to the brim with quality releases! The studios have set out a big plate of milk and cookies for us as we come down the chimney of the weekend! Well, now that I've made moviegoing seem completely unappealing, let's take a look at what's out there. There will be five new films jockeying in wide release this weekend-- even the musical about a barber is hitting over 1,000 theatres-- not to mention the twin threats of holdovers I Am Legend and Alvin and the Chipmunks sticking in at over 3,000 theatres. If anyone can topple Will Smith at the box office it's Nicolas Cage mucking around in U.S. history, but the Fresh Prince probably won't give up without a fight. With national treasures, demon barbers, hard walkers, p.s. lovers and Charlie WIlson all competiting for our attention this weekend, there really is something for everyone out there.

TreasureNATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS. Opening in 3,832 theatres. Nicolas Cage is back as Benjamin Gates, the intrepid code-breaker on a mission to unlock the secrets of American history with the help of our most treasured artifacts. This time he's using a page from John Wilkes Booth's diary to discover a City of Gold buried beneath Mount Rushmore. Jon Voight is back as his father, while Helen Mirren has joined the cast as his mother. (Mirren, who is fresh off an Oscar win, is on the record as saying a day spent doing stunts on the set was "the best day of my professional life.") Ed Harris, Bruce Greenwood, Justin Bartha, Harvey Keitel and Diane Kruger round out the cast.

Roger Ebert makes me feel better about being unable to understand the plot of this movie no matter how many times I read it: "This movie's plot doesn't play tennis without a net, but also without a ball and a racket. It spins in its own blowback. And, no, I don't know what that means, but this is the kind of movie that makes you think of writing it." You probably don't need me to tell you that most critics agree with Ebert that the movie is completely ludicrous, though some enjoyed the ride as much as Helen Mirren did. "Let's not kid anyone here. This franchise is all about dumb fun," writes the Arizona Republic. Matt Zoller Seitz at the New York Times has another funny riff on the meaningless plot: "To acquire the cleverly named Book of Secrets, Ben plots to kidnap the current president and blah, blah, blah purple monkey dishwasher." But in the end he's not amused: "The National Treasure films substitute trivia for poetry and busyness for thrills." And the Hollywood Reporter was ready to be entertained but didn't get it, writing, "The thrill is gone as everyone is slavishly following an action memo dictated by marketing concerns and boxoffice demographics rather than cinematic invention."

Walkhardposterbig_2 WALK HARD. Opening in 2,650 theatres. Dewey Cox is a rock legend not too unlike Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison or Brian Wilson, except that he's fictional. Played by John C. Reilly, Dewey goes through all the trials and tribulations of fame in this rock biopic parody, from an early failed marriage to multiple drug addictions. The laugh-a-minute, Airplane! style of humor is a bit different from what we've come to expect from co-screenwriter and producer Judd Apatow, but it features many of the players who have made his films a hit: Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch and Martin Starr all stop in. Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell and dozens of others round out the cast.

Unlike National Treasure, Walk Hard largely provided the critics with the silly fun they were looking for. had measured praise: "For those who enjoy the saturation style of humor and appreciate the way in which parody is not pushed too far into the absurd, Walk Hard is not without merit." Our Frank Lovece spoke of "laughing your great balls of fire off" and called the movie "a pitch-perfect parody of pop-music biopics." And The Hollywood Reporter calls its "just plain, undemanding fun," and credits Walk Hard for
"at long last mov[ing] the talented John C. Reilly up the billing ladder from second banana to top banana." The Village Voice, on the other hand, clearly found coal in their stocking: "This burlesque of biopic clichs flounders from one setup to the next." Ouch. And, in my humble opinion, wrong. If you can't enjoy Walk Hard, even a little bit, then you really don't deserve Christmas.

Charliewilsonswar_posterjpegCHARLIE WILSON'S WAR. Opening in 2,574 theatres. Charlie Wilson was a lower-level U.S. Representative from Texas in the early 80s when he learned about the situation in Afghanistan, in which Afghan rebels were fighting against the Soviet invasion. Wanting to help them in hopes of bringing about an end to the Cold War, Wilson arranged to send millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Afghans, with the help of a Texas billionaire (Julia Roberts) and a loose cannon CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Of course, those are the weapons that were eventually used against American soldiers when we invaded Afghanistan in 2001, but that comes in the epilogue that was apparently left out. Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, and Mike Nichols directed.

Originally expected to be the Biggest Movie Ever given its pedigreed cast and creators, Charlie Wilson seems to be more enjoyable than groundbreaking. "This may sound wonkish, but it's played with the rat-a-tat rhythms of a screwball comedy," writes David Ansen of Newsweek. Our Rex Roberts also enjoyed the "entertaining and well-crafted romp through the Reagan era." The Village Voice, which I still haven't forgiven over that Walk Hard business, actually laughed during this one: "Dark and funny and mean and sexy, damned near pitch-black-perfect." Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, was less amused: "The film undercuts its aims with a play-acting artificiality that is more wearisome than entertaining."

Onesheet P.S. I LOVE YOU. Opening in 2,454 theatres. Ah, women. If they're not spending the weekend before Christmas shopping like fiends, they're crying. At least, that's what the people behind P.S. I Love You are hoping, releasing the ultimate weepie about the death of a spouse, the search for true love, and female friendship. Hilary Swank stars as a woman who loses her husband at a young age, and is propelled by 10 notes he left her before he died to get out and start her life anew. Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Harry Connick, Jr. also star.

Hilary Swank has once again disappointed critics by wasting her talents in a mediocre movie. "Swank does her best but is unable to transcend the paltry material, while Kudrow and Gershon are wasted as basic handmaidens to this two-time Oscar winner," writes our David Noh. The always-succinct New York Daily News asks, "P.S. Why should we care?" Manohla Dargis at The New York Times, on the other hand, takes a very sensible female approach to this weepie and admits that it works exactly the way it intends: "The film is not a beautiful object or a memorable cultural one, and yet it charms, however awkwardly [...]  Together the director and his star create a swell of feeling that helps blunt your reservations about being played as an easy mark, a sap or, worse, a girl, even if that's exactly what you are." I haven't seen P.S. I Love You, but I'm tempted to agree with her, if just for the sake of the only movie this fall about a woman, not a teenage girl or the hordes of men on screen right now.

Sweeneytoddbig_2SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. Opening on 1,249 screens. The adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's masterful musical finds Johnny Depp as the titular barber, back from an unjust stint in prison and set on revenge against he man who sent him there, Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Opening up shop above Mrs. Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop, Sweeney starts off offering shaves but eventually slits throats as well, all in the name of vengeance against humanity. Oh, and there's lots of singing. Timothy Spall, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jayne Wisener and Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, Borat) also star.

Director Tim Burton's effort hasn't won over everyone, but those who loved it are passionate with their praise."It is cruel in its effects and radical in its misanthropy, expressing a breathtakingly, rigorously pessimistic view of human nature. It is also something close to a masterpiece, a work of extreme � I am tempted to say evil � genius," writes The New York Times'  A.O. Scott in a beautifully written rave. Our own Burton fan Ethan Alter is won over as well, writing, "Sweeney Todd certainly succeeds as spectacle, but for the first time in a long time, Burton is completely keyed into the human drama unfolding in front of him." Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum finds something in it for everyone: "This opulent, attentive production is splashed with signature style and hell-bent on entertaining Sondheimites, Deppsters, ladies who heart Alan Rickman in the role of the judge, and even Borat/"Ali G"-loving strays who wander in to see an uncontainably antic Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of a blackmailing faux-Italian con man. It's an impossible assignment, really, carried off with more-than-respectable panache." Carrie Rickey at the Philadelphia Inquirer admits that the movie "seeps into your bones like fog," but concludes, "Burton delivers a movie that might well be too arty for the blood crowd and too bloody for the art crowd." Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, on the other hand, is over-the-moon: "Sweeney Todd is a thriller-diller from start to finish: scary, monstrously funny and melodically thrilling."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is the MPAA Censoring Taxi to the Dark Side?

By Katey Rich

The MPAA ratings system is a murky, mysterious process, something that filmmakers stress over but most of us don't pay attention to until a scandal pops up. It never occurred to me until today that the MPAA has jurisdiction over poster art as well as the film itself, and yes, I'm only paying attention because of controversy.

Taxi_poster Unlike what usually passes for scandal in Hollywood these days, this one's a doozy. The MPAA rejected the proposed poster for the upcoming documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, which addresses torture practices at Guantanamo by telling the story of an Afghan taxi driver arrested on false charges and killed there. The poster in question, which you can see a tiny version of at left, shows two soldiers escorting a man with a burlap bag over his head, an image now very familiar thanks to the Abu Ghraib photos.

That's the whole image. There's no blood, no instruments of torture, no severed limbs. The MPAA was characteristically tight-lipped in explaining their decision: "We treat all films the same. Ads will be seen by all audiences, including children. If the advertising is not suitable for all audiences it will not be approved by the advertising administration." Filmmaker Alex Gibney, naturally, has fired back with outrage. "Intentional or not, the MPAA's disapproval of the poster is a political act, undermining legitimate criticism of the Bush administration. I agree that the image is offensive; it's also real."

The image is not technically an exact document-- according to Variety the original photo by Shaun Schwartz was altered to add a second soldier. But anyone who has followed the Iraq war or the Guantanamo Bay scandals recognizes such an image, and understands that it is real.

Setting aside the fact that the MPAA has let posters like this or this fly by without a peep, and has given those movies R ratings to boot, what in God's name are they trying to accomplish? The New York Times, rightly, runs images of dead Iraqis or even dead American soldiers on a regular basis, and most footage on the nightly news is more disturbing than the Taxi to the Dark Side poster. Without sounding like a left-wing loon, I can't help but feel that the MPAA has tipped their hand here, making it all too clear how thin the line between "protecting the children" and "political censorship" can be.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weekend Roundup: How Legends Are Made

By Katey Rich

Even after what I wrote on Friday about how Will Smith is a real deal movie star, I was surprised at how many moviegoers agreed with me. I Am Legend absolutely destroyed the box office, raking in $77 million in the best-ever December opening (yes, even better than all three Lord of the Rings movies). The movie is already among the top-grossing films to be released this fall, and is likely on its way to being one of the top grossers of the year.

It wasn't the only surprise earner of the weekend, though. The critically reviled Alvin and the Chipmunks scored in second place with a $44 million take, just short of what Enchanted made in its blockbuster opening week a few weeks ago. This will probably go down as one of those examples of how critics don't matter and our opinions won't stop anyone from shelling out to see garbage. We tried to warn you, America, we really did.

Since it's already Tuesday (I apologize for the absence yesterday), everyone's already looking to next weekend's grosses, so I'll direct you to Box Office Mojo, as usual, for the full results. Take a look at The Kite Runner, which debuted OK in limited release, and Atonement and Juno, which are still swingin' in a handful of theatres. Atonement even managed to crack the top ten, with Juno hovering just outside. The top ten is also after the jump; hey look, people are still seeing Fred Claus instead of just renting Elf.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NI Am LegendWB$77,211,321-3,606-$21,411$77,211,321-1
2NAlvin and the ChipmunksFox$44,307,417-3,475-$12,750$44,307,417$601
31The Golden CompassNL$8,825,549-65.8%3,528-$2,501$40,768,661$1802
56No Country for Old MenMira.$2,827,530-31.3%1,348+24$2,097$33,390,003-6
6NThe Perfect HolidayYFG$2,283,360-1,307-$1,747$2,930,188-1
73This ChristmasSGem$2,260,812-54.4%1,921+42$1,176$46,004,292$134
84Fred ClausWB$2,221,438-51.8%2,750-435$807$68,880,722-6
107August RushWB$1,765,319-49.7%2,007-303$879$28,045,110-4

Jackson and Raimi Headed for Middle Earth

By Katey Rich


Lord of the Rings fans who have already worn out their special edition box sets can rejoice: Peter Jackson is finally set to start making a movie version of The Hobbit. Jackson and New Line have been squabbling in the form of a lawsuit over money he was owed for the LOTR trilogy-- I guess when your movie makes $3 billion, you reconsider the deal you made back when you were a New Zealander nobody had ever heard of.

The plan is to make two movies out of The Hobbit, which is a prequel to the events of LOTR starring Frodo's uncle Bilbo Baggins and our old friend Gollum/Smeagol. Jackson doesn't plan to direct the film, which might send some fanboys into a tizzy, but his old friend Sam Raimi has been looking to step into the director's chair. Jackson and his producing partner Fran Walsh will act as what will likely be very active executive producers.

Raimi, of course, is the man who turned Tobey Maguire into Spiderman, not to mention bringing us Evil Dead and Army of Darkness. It's difficult to really predict how his influence will be seen in a world that will almost certainly look and feel just like Jackson's Middle Earth. The first film will be the story told in The Hobbit, while the second will fill the gap in time between the end of Bilbo's adventures and the beginning of Frodo's. I thought we covered most of that ground back in Fellowship of the Ring, but as we all know, there's no limit to what people will rush to find out about Middle Earth.

The movies likely won't go into production until 2009, since obviously a script can't be written yet, so it's hard to know if in 2011 people will be hankering for a new Middle Earth adventure the way they are now. For my part, though, I'm ready. No one has done fantasy the way Jackson did before or since, and even if he's not directly behind the camera I trust him and Raimi to capture the old magic. And especially for New Line's sake, as they struggle to figure out exactly how they can make money without hobbits, I want this to succeed. They did a great thing by taking a risk on Jackson before, and reining him in as their cash cow will hopefully let them take more thrilling risks like that, instead of, you know, Austin Powers 4 or something like that.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Will Smith: The Best America Has to Offer

By Katey Rich

I finally get it. I finally get why Will Smith is the most bankable star in America, and why everything he does-- whether its playing an alien-killing guy in a suit or a homeless father--resonates with huge audiences worldwide.

I figured this out after spending some quality time with him in I Am Legend, possibly the world's only one-man show-cum-zombie movie. While there is a handful of actors capable of carrying an entire movie on their shoulders-- Daniel Day-Lewis is out there doing it right now--Will Smith does it uniquely here. He's not hiding behind a real-life person, or an outsized character, or even a big mustache. He's playing a regular man, with regular fears and a regular sense of humor, who happens to be the last man left on Earth.

It's a surprisingly tough gig. He spends much of the film in conversation with a German shepherd, which he easily pulls off with his innate charisma. In other sections, though, he lays bare the psychological toll taken on his character, Robert Neville, in the three years he has spent surviving in New York City while zombie hordes lurk in the unknown shadows. He stages mannequins around town and waves hello to them, like his friends and neighbors; when something goes wrong with one of them, though, you realize it's not a game. He's deeply unsettled by it, and by turn you're deeply unsettled too.

Smith, with his wide-open face and everyman persona, makes Neville entirely relatable even in his bizarre circumstances. Late in the film, when Neville goes on something of a suicide mission against the zombie-vampire creatures who used to be his fellow New Yorkers, you understand before it's said why he's misdirecting his rage so badly. In a movie that could have been a nonsense exploration of humanity and morality within a sci-fi context, he gives you an archetypal hero. Daniel Day-Lewis, great as he is, probably couldn't have done that.

The movie eventually goes off the rails and bungles its ending, as so many sci-fi movies seem prone to do these days, but up to that point I Am Legend is a remarkably quiet, well-crafted genre piece that's held together by a terrific lead performance. I have to admit I was secretly hoping Will Smith would sneak his way into a Golden Globe nomination yesterday morning, though if Viggo Mortensen asks, I never said that. I'll be happy to see I Am Legend rake in the money this weekend, though I obviously would rather send all of America to see The Savages and No Country for Old Men instead. I just love that in an era of manufactured "stars" with marginal talent, Will Smith is the real deal, and moviegoers consistently recognize it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Box Office Outlook: It's Going to be Legendary

By Katey Rich

When your box office numbers are in a slump, the marketplace is filled with downer dramas and expensive fantasy bombs, and you need a pick-me-up, who do you call? Why, Will Smith of course. The Fresh Prince will be working his box office magic this weekend with I Am Legend, opening wide and drawing in the teenage boys by the boatload. For the first time since Thanksgiving we've got a party of wide releases this weekend, each of them targeting different audiences and each of them looking likely to boost the flagging box office of late. Of course, there's also another downer drama-- set in Afghanistan, no less-- but those uninterested will be able to turn to Will and his German Shepherd. Everyone goes home happy!

IamlegendposterI AM LEGEND. Opening in 3,606 theatres. "The Last Man on Earth is Not Alone." The tagline pretty much says it all, don't you think? Will Smith plays the only survivor of a virus that has wiped out all of humanity, turning them into feral, vampire-like creatures who roam at night and feed on human flesh. He's taken refuge in a New York City townhouse and is searching for a cure in his basement lab, but his isolation and his safety can only last so long... I Am Legend is based on the Richard Matheson novel of the same name, and was also the inspiration for the Vincent Price movie The Last Man on Earth as well as a version with Charlton Heston, Omega Man.

Critics are split on the psychological zombie thriller. Our Lewis Beale appreciates the blending of genres but concludes, "For some reason, the parts don't quite mesh." Owen Glieberman at Entertainment Weekly doesn't see the cultural relevance of the "killer virus" that killed off humanity, but gives credit where it's due: "For what it is, though, the film is well-done, a case of suspenseful competence trumping questionable relevance." And A.O. Scott at The New York Times backs me up on the idea that Will Smith's performance is the big thing to cheer for: "There is something graceful and effortless about this performance, which not only shows what it might feel like to be the last man on earth, but also demonstrates what it is to be a movie star." The Detroit News, on the other hand, dismisses it as "less than worthy of its hefty title." The Hollywood Reporter gives what is probably the most indisputable assessment: "Legend will be one of the most commercial holiday releases."

Alvin_and_the_chipmunksALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS. Opening in 3,476 theatres. Oh boy. The 60s novelty act is back in glorious CGI, with Alvin, Theodore and Simon teaming up with Jason Lee as the beleaguered songwriter Dave. The plot finds the chipmunks ousted from their home in the woods and taking up residence with Dave, who is inspired by their cheer and singing talent. Hey, it's a kids' movie, how much plot can you really want?

You probably don't need me to tell you the reviews aren't so shiny for this one. "None of this will remotely appeal to kids, who will probably spend most of the movie wishing they had gone to see Enchanted again," writes our Ethan Alter. "The manic Chipmunks wear out their welcome pretty quickly and a sleepy-looking Lee doesn't have  much more to offer than a familiar face," writes the Onion A.V. Club. The Orlando Sentinel is a little more forgiving: "No, it isn't a holiday classic. There isn't that much ambition there. But Alvin and the Chipmunks nicely blends up-to-date one-liners with the nostalgically sentimental." The Associated Press suggests that families watch the "Dramatic Chipmunk" on YouTube instead (I also suggest this, since the clip is 5 seconds long), but concedes, "families looking for distraction could do worse than the benign and kid-friendly humor of Alvin and the Chipmunks."

PerfectholidayTHE PERFECT HOLIDAY. Opening in 1,306 theatres. This Christmas, all single mom Nancy (Gabrielle Union) wants is a compliment from a man. When her daughter Emily gets wind of that wish, she tells a department store Santa (Morris Chestnut) and he delivers on the wish. Sensing true love, Nancy tracks him down, but with her ex-husband (Charlie Murphy) and meddling angels (Queen Latifah, Terrence Howard) getting in the way, it won't be easy.

It hasn't been a good year for holiday-themed movies, and The Perfect Holiday isn't a good exception. Stephen Holden at The New York Times manages a funny pan, writing, "Watching the movie is like reaching into a Christmas stocking and pulling out handfuls of cheap plastic toys that are broken." Our Frank Lovece doesn't hold back either, succinctly commenting, "Bah-Humbug." Roger Ebert, as usual, has a big heart: "There's not much original about the film, but it's played with high spirits and good cheer." Still, he's outnumbered by Grinches like Michael Rechtshaffen at the Hollywood Reporter, who manages to insult the movie and New Jersey simultaneously: "This shot-in-New Jersey production feels about as inviting as warm eggnog."

ThekiterunnerposterTHE KITE RUNNER. Opening in 35 theatres. An adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel, The Kite Runner is a story that spans decades and sees the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan through the eyes of two young boys. The two are inseparable until tragedy and the country's political instability rend them apart. Years later Amir, now living in the United States, returns to Afghanistan to make amends for a childhood mistake, and rediscovers the country he left behind. The film is directed by Marc Forster, who also made Finding Neverland and Stranger than Fiction.

This made-to-order Oscar bait has been getting mixed but largely positive, if not exactly enthusiastic, reviews. Our Ethan Alter admits it's not groundbreaking but concludes, "Much like the book, the film version of The Kite Runner is bound to connect with moviegoers from all walks of life." David Ansen of Newsweek finds it effective as well: "The Kite Runner isn't subtle, but it allows us to see a country and a culture from the inside." "Forster's direction is understated and all the more effective for it. He also has elicited wonderfully naturalistic performances from his trio of child actors," writes The Hollywood Reporter. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, on the other hand, doesn't hold back with her disapproval. "Mr. Forster has been soundly defeated by The Kite Runner. Despite the film's far-flung locations (it was shot primarily in China), there is remarkably little of visual interest here; the setups are banal, and the scenes lack tension, which no amount of editing can provide."

Golden Globes Add More Confusion to Crazy Awards Season

By Katey Rich


There have been so many nominations, awards and top ten lists in the last week that it's impossible to keep track. Who was it that gave Frank Langella Best Actor? Which group was the first one to show any love for The Great Debaters?

With today's Golden Globe nominations, though, the award announcements will quiet down for a little while. And after a week of "best of" and "top ten" and "best in supporting role" declarations, what more do we know about how the Oscar race will turn out?

Not much. The field is looking as wide open as ever, since the Globes nominated seven (yes, seven) films for Best Picture Drama and another five for Best Picture Comedy/Musical, and don't forget that The Kite Runner and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly made it into the Foreign Language category, for which they aren't eligible at the Oscars. (You can see the full list of nominees here) Add that to the top ten list from the Broadcast Film Critics Assocation, a group considered about as mainstream as the Globes and the Oscars, which includes the Globe-snubbed Into the WIld. That leaves us with 15 potential Oscar nominees. I could have given you the same list in October.

That said, some movies did get a leg up today. I was a little surprised to see the love the critics groups showed to There Will Be Blood (it was named Best Picture by the L.A. film critics and the NY online film critics), and figured it couldn't make the same showing with a more mainstream crew. But the fim's Critic's Choice and Globe nominations demonstrate a strength that I never imagined it could have. I've been saying for weeks that there wasn't room in the Oscar Best Picture race for No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, but it's looking increasingly likely that I'll be proven wrong.

Then there's Atonement, which is still safely an Oscar frontrunner even though it was all but ignored by the critic groups. It got the most Golden Globe nominations today, with seven, and attention for its lead actors Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, who were totally snubbed by the Critics Choice group.

Charlie Charlie Wilson's War made an impact, which I figure it had to, but a much bigger one that I'd thought after approving but not glowing early reviews. It came away with five nominations, including nods for picture, screenplay and all three of its actors. I feel fine about this, even though I was pretty unmoved by the movie, but Julia Roberts' presence in the supporting actress race is unreal, especially given that she bypassed Vanessa Redgrave to get there. Her Texas accent in the movie is the worst Southern accent I've heard on-screen in years, and even more offensive given that she's from Georgia originally. Her character is little bit of a cipher anyway, but the accent destroyed it for me. But then, maybe that's just me. And the odds of Julia winning the award are slim to nothing, given the battle that's been taking place between Amy Ryan and Cate Blanchett thus far.

The presence of The Great Debaters in the Best Picture Drama category is confusing, though some are chalking it up to Harvey Weinstein's good relationship with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and their desire to give him a little love. Denzel Washington got some of it too, with the Debaters nomination and a nod for his acting in American Gangster.

Finally, there's the strange absence of Into the Wild, especially after it led the Critics Choice nominees with seven nods. Nothing about the movie seems especially unfriendly to the HFPA, except that maybe it's too American? Who knows. I don't think this kills the movie's Oscar chances, but it emphasizes how much shuffling around can be done with the line-up. Turn your back and we'll wind up with Best Picture nominee Reservation Road.

Carter The Carpetbagger interviews Helena Bonham Carter today about her and her partner Tim Burton's nominations for Sweeney Todd (the movie got four overall, including nods for Johnny Depp and Best Picture Musical/Comedy). Carter is as pregnant as it gets-- she's due tomorrow!-- and she and Burton got the phone call telling them about the nominations while they were in the doctor's office. "I'm so huge it's kind of absurd," she said. "In fact like a globe, frankly."

The actress, who gives one of my favorite performances of the year as Mrs. Lovett, has a great perspective on the value of awards. "Also," Ms. Bonham Carter added, "if it means another good part for me, that's all I'm interested in, frankly. I'm a whore for good parts, like most actresses. Awards can raise your profile for a nanosecond. They're like, �Okay, she's still alive�."

The Baguette asked her if she knew whether her child was a boy or girl. "No," Ms. Bonham Carter replied. "As long as it's not a globe. We want a human."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ready to Spend Another Night at the Museum?

By Katey Rich

Museum I've always had a weird affection for Night at the Museum, even though I never saw it and feel no real need to. I guess I love that it's an entirely original idea that made it big at the box office, and it taps into a universal childhood fantasy of getting locked into some awesome place for a night and seeing what really happens.

So I guess I'm glad that a critical and blockbuster success will be getting a sequel, though a little disappointed that such a fresh idea, like everything else in this world, is turning into a franchise. Night at the Museum 2: Escape from the Smithsonian pretty much sums up everything in its title (possibly the Snakes on a Plane of 2009), and already has director Shawn Levy and star Ben Stiller set to return. Ricky Gervais is also hoping to reprise his role, but in the meantime Reese Witherspoon has been approached to play, of all people, Amelia Earhart.

What now? Hilary Swank is already planning a biopic of the aviator, and that casting sounds great, but how in this world Reese Witherspoon and Amelia Earhart are anything alike is beyond me. Of course, I don't think anyone instantly shouted "Robin Williams!" when thinking of someone to play Teddy Roosevelt.

The switch in locations obviously provides plenty of new fodder, and with so many Smithsonians to cover in so little time, the movie probably won't lack for action. In a neat switcheroo, Fox has given Night at the Museum 2 a May 22, 2009 release date, which used to be occupied by James Cameron's Avatar. The latter project has been pushed back to allow for extra CGI work-- I mean, the whole damn thing is CGI--and will open on December 18, which not-so-coincidentally is the same day Titanic opened in 1997. It's bizarre that December is suddenly becoming a second summer, with big-budget action movies opening against sensitive Oscar fare, but I guess it's never too cold to watch aliens blow each other up. And, conversely, never too warm to see Ben Stiller get chased around by historical figures.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Interviews With 'There Will Be Blood's Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano and Paul Thomas Anderson

By Katey Rich


It's tempting to think of There Will Be Blood as something that simply fell to the earth as-is, too strange and measured and complex to have been put together by a team that required craft services, power generators, on-set trailers and the like. The temptation is especially prevalent when it comes to the character of Daniel Plainview. How can that be an actor under there, a man with a family and modern-day clothes who doesn't even have an American accent?

Yet at a press conference before the film's premiere in New York on Monday, there was Daniel Day-Lewis, wearing a sharp fedora and a gold earring , and Paul Thomas Anderson, the man who created it all, mild-mannered and occasionally stumbling over his words. Paul Dano and Ciaran Hinds were there as well, chiming in occasionally on what was essentially the Paul and Daniel show. The four laughed and told stories about the set and their work with 10-year-old Dillon Freasier, who plays Plainview's son H.W., but were also reticent about the Big Meaning behind it all. When pressed about social or political commentary, or even the complex relationships among the characters, all four would fall silent for up to a minute. Clearly this is a movie that its makers want to stand on its own.

Anderson, a native Californian, admitted, "I suppose I've always wondered what the stuff [oil] is, how we get it out of the ground, why we like it so much and what the story was." He chose to adapt Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! for its description of the California oil boom within its first 100 pages, after Sinclair visited a town struck by oil fever. "When Sinclair witnessed this community trying to get this lease together [for oil drilling], he said he witnessed human greed laid bare. He saw these people go absolutely crazy."

Twbb01436_copy He wrote the part of Daniel Plainview with Daniel Day-Lewis particularly in mind, but Paul Dano originally joined the cast as Paul Sunday, the brother of main character Eli Sunday who appears only early on in the film. The actor originally cast as Eli, whom everyone declines to name, didn't work out for unknown reasons, but Day-Lewis specifically refuted a recent New York Times profile that suggested the actor was intimidated by Day-Lewis: "I was quite surprised when I read that comment. Whatever the problem was during that time with that particular person, I absolutely don't believe that it was because he was intimidated by me."

Dano jumped into the role with only a few days to prepare, and though he deadpanned that the biggest perk of the dual role was "Double the pay," he said he didn't really have the time to consider it at all. "I certainly didn't relish the idea of getting a bigger part in this film because of trying to throw myself into the character, and that was the priority. I have to say in retrospect, yeah, it was wonderful to get to spend some more time in Texas with these guys here. I feel very lucky, and hopefully I was able to contribute to it in so short amount of time."

Day-Lewis, famous for his method acting techniques, said no training was required to become Plainview because, at the beginning of the film, he knew as little about oil drilling as Day-Lewis himself does. "In terms of the physical preparation there wasn't really anything to do except just stay fit and then just start digging holes. They kind of made it up as they went along. As you see in the story, before even cable drilling, rotary drilling, came into common use, they began by scooping this muck as it erupted naturally out of the earth, scooping it up in saucepans and buckets and stuff. [...] As the story progresses there's something to learn about, because the drilling procedure is a fairly complicated thing, but at the beginning it's sheer blood and sweat, really."

Appropriately enough for a movie about the American power of self-invention, Dano didn't do too much research to become Eli either. "I sort of had a privilege with Eli. He didn't have radio or television, and I don't think he had the opportunity to see a tremendous amount of preachers, except when somebody traveled through his town or a town close by. He didn't have a lot of books either, so I think he sort of made himself up once he found what his gifts and his savviness and charisma could bring him. [...] It was a way for me to run with the material that Paul gave me and not have to base it on one person or a group of people in particular."

Twbb12249_r Day-Lewis and Dano spent several shooting days locked in tense battle against each other, including in one notable fight scene that's done entirely in one tracking shot. "Time was very tight. Essentially, out of the necessity often something interesting is born, and of course the tracking shot which covered the whole scene," Day-Lewis explained. "There was nothing you could do to get ready for that except just try it and try again." "And the next day we got to shoot the baptism scene, so Paul got to have his way," Anderson chimed in, talking about a scene later in the film in which Eli baptizes Daniel with both water and some hard knocks. "We decided to get the scene before the slapping starts, and then we would start slapping. But Paul either forgot or decided to take his own initiative and slap Daniel across the face."

Even young Freasier had to participate in the violence at some points. "He had to struggle with Ciaran and he had to slap Daniel. He didn't like to do it initially," Anderson said, to which Day-Lewis replied, "He developed a taste for it, though."

Day-Lewis spent time with Freasier for several weeks before shooting, and sat him down before filming began to warn him of what would take place once he was in character. "I said, �Dillon, you know how I feel about you. There are going to be moments in the next months to come when I'm going to speak harshly to you, I'm not going to treat you nicely. I hope you understand that I love you and so on�' And he looked at me like I was insane, like �Of course I know that.' He was just one step ahead of us, pretty much most of the time."

Twbb07273hw Freasier's mother, a Texas state trooper, took a step ahead too, renting one of Day-Lewis' earlier films to get a sense of who he was; unfortunately that film was <I>Gangs of New York</I>, in which he played a character nicknamed "The Butcher." "She was absolutely appalled. She thought she was releasing her dear child into the hands of a monster. There was a flurry of phone calls, and somebody sent a copy of The Age of Innocence to her. Apparently that did the trick."

With this film Anderson has stepped away from the large ensembles and fluid camera that earned him comparisons to the late Robert Altman, but he has dedicated the film to the director regardless. Anderson becomes visibly emotional when discussing Altman, for whom he served as a back-up director on the set of A Prairie Home Companion in 2005 and befriended in the process. "Bob was very good at relaxing; he was a very relaxed director. . I would find myself getting uptight about things, and he just sort of looked at me like �What are you worried about? It's all going to be fine.' Maybe I learned that from him, to relax a little bit more. He died while we were cutting [There Will Be Blood]. I was in Ireland with Daniel working on the film, and I was planning to come back and show it to him and never got a chance to. That's really a drag that he didn't get to see it. So, yeah, we dedicated the film to him."

And how about that ominous, threatening title, so different from that of Sinclair's book? As with many of his answers at this short but remarkably insightful press conference, Anderson is evasive. "I'm probably selfish�I wrote the title down and it looked really good. I thought, 'We should call the movie that."

Release Date Changes: Get Ready for 1-18-08

By Katey Rich

Last week a ton of new release date changes were announced, finally giving shape to the bleak January and February we expect at the end of the awards season brouhaha. There's so much to go through, so let's do talking points.

Cloverfield Is January 18 the new July 4th weekend? We've heard the phrase "1-18-08" for months now in connection with J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield; it was the stand-in title for a while, the name of the viral marketing website, and a central part of the promotional campaign. If it's possible to have a tentpole opening in January, this is it: It's got as much buzz as a huge studio effort like I Am Legend. Now two new projects have set their sights on January 18 as well: Teeth and Mad Money. The more interesting of these is Teeth, a Sundance hit with a plot so provocative you can only describe it in euphemism. Jess Weixler stars as a teenage girl who wants to become sexually active, but as it turns out, she has teeth, uh, you know where. See what I mean? Teeth had been scheduled for a fall release but will now duke it out against Cloverfield (Mad Money, a crime caper starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes,seems a little too packed with kooky antics for my taste). Somehow it seems that Teeth's gamble might work. Sure, it's competing for the same young male audience (what teenage boy doesn't want to see a movie with a vagina as a major plot point?), but Teeth will likely start out in limited release and build cachet from there. The Teeth and Cloverfield one-two punch could actually make January interesting for once.

Wait, I take that back. Meet the Spartans, a spoof with a trailer here in case it's not already evident what it's about, is coming out January 25. So January will instantly become uninteresting again.

I just had to type the phrase Saw V into a calendar, and I feel dirty about it. I knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming. Still, do I really have to start thinking about the next Saw before this year is even over? You even know the release date already-- October 24, the weekend before Halloween. Happy now?

WantedJames McAvoy gets kicked around the calendar. With Atonement reaping lots of buzz and McAvoy getting lauded for his performance, both of his upcoming projects have had their release dates shifted in apparent anticipation of his rising star. First there's Penelope, which has been hanging around waiting for a release date for over a year. It's now been moved to open the Friday before the Oscars ceremony, where McAvoy is looking increasingly likely to be up for Best Actor. The romantic comedy, also starring Christina Ricci and Reese Witherspoon, probably doesn't have what it takes to become a big hit, so it makes sense to try and ride whatever tailwind there is from McAvoy's success. Probably not much, but it could make a difference. Wanted, on the other hand, is a mega-budget action thriller in which McAvoy plays an assassin opposite Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. It was originally slated for a March release, the kind of counter-programming blockbuster slot that made 300 a hit. Now it's been moved to June 27, smack-dab in the middle of summer and up against the Tom Cruise-Bryan Singer project Valkyrie and Wall-E, the latest from Pixar. Wow-- talk about your signs of faith. It might not be all McAvoy's doing, but clearly Universal is betting he can be a leading man to beat Tom Cruise. Time will tell if the gamble pays off.

It's gonna live forever. In the oddest release date I've seen yet, the remake of Fame has been set for a Christmas Day release next year. Huh? Is this Alien vs. Predator-style counter-programming, for the audiences who aren't busying themselves with end-of-the-year highbrow fare? But still, that's the same date as Star Trek 11, the hugely-buzzed J.J. Abrams that will bookend a likely big year. There's virtually no information available about Fame-- I don't even know if they've started filming-- so color me puzzled until someone explains this one to me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Weekend Roundup: 'Compass' Rules, But Barely

By Katey Rich

'Tis the season for sweeping fantasy epics... or at least, that's the way it used to be. Taking advantage of the pre-holiday release slot that rocketed The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to box office bonanzas, The Golden Compass managed to snag the #1 spot for the weekend, but with a paltry $26 million take. Compare that to the $65 million The Chronicles of Narnia brought in over the same period two years ago, and you can practically hear the screams of anguish over at New Line.

Everything else pretty much fell into its expected place behind Compass. Enchanted keeps rolling merrily along, coming it at #2 with $10 million, and This Christmas continued marching behind it at #3, bringing in $5 million. Yes, that's right: The #3 movie of the weekend made just $5 million. Slow days indeed.

Fred Claus continues to blow my mind by actually making a profit, and it even surpassed Beowulf this weekend, coming it at #4 with $4.6 million. The Danish warrior, on the other hand, had to settle for #5 and $4.4 million. The message that this turn of events is sending to the studios-- Vince Vaughn and elves > groundbreaking animation-- is ugly, and too depressing to think about this early in the week.

In happier news, No Country for Old Men moved up to #6 after adding 329 screens and another $4.2 million to its total gross of $28 million. Thanks for restoring my faith in the movies, Coens! August Rush continued its steady run at #7, making $3.5 million. Dropping quickly on their way to oblivion were Hitman and Awake, which made $3.4 million and $3.3 million respectively. And rounding out the top ten was Bee Movie, which made another $2.6 million but has still not surpassed the gross of American Gangster, the fellow blockbuster that opened on the same weekend; Gangster currently sits at #12.

The other buzzed-about new releases of the weekend debuted on much smaller scales, but still brought in strong paydays: Atonement made $817,000 from 32 screens, for a $25,231 average, while Juno brought in $420,000 from 7 screens for a whopping $60,000 average. Both will expand wider as the month--and awards season--continue.

After the jump is the full top 20 from Box Office Mojo. Worth noting: People are still seeing Dan in Real Life! And Into the Wild! And Before the Devil Knows You're Dead! Nice to see some staying power in a world where Awake and Hitman keep disappointing us. Oh, who are we kidding? Those movies were made for disappointment.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NThe Golden CompassNL$26,125,000-3,528+2,649$7,405$26,125,000$1801
33This ChristmasSGem$5,000,000-37.0%1,879+21$2,660$42,760,000$133
46Fred ClausWB$4,660,000-15.3%3,185-235$1,463$65,589,000-5
610No Country for Old MenMira.$4,233,000-3.5%1,324+329$3,197$28,861,000-5
77August RushWB$3,525,000-29.8%2,310-$1,525$25,148,000-3
109Bee MovieP/DW$2,612,000-41.2%2,707-443$964$121,028,000$1506
118The MistMGM/W$2,560,000-43.8%2,336-87$1,095$23,407,000$183
1211American GangsterUni.$2,558,000-40.0%2,132-567$1,199$125,574,000$1006
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1312Mr. Magorium's Wonder EmporiumFox$2,000,000-38.7%2,341-519$854$28,977,000-4
1413Dan in Real LifeBV$1,069,000-35.9%1,251-254$854$45,910,000-7
1614Before the Devil Knows You're DeadThink$645,000-15.9%321+19$2,009$5,357,000-7
1816Into the WildParV$360,000-20.2%360-2$1,000$16,198,000-12
1915I'm Not ThereWein.$358,000-27.7%148+10$2,418$2,239,000-3