Thursday, January 31, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Can Hannah Montana Win It All?

By Katey Rich

It's looking like that kind of weekend. All the new release titles are movies you've never heard of, starring people who sound vaguely familiar and with concepts that sound either way overdone or completely absurd. We have the ghost of a woman who haunts her ex-fiance as he tries to find new love, another woman who can suddenly see ghosts following eye surgery, and a bunch of guys who go off into the woods and get into accidents involving wild animals and drug use. One of the smallest releases of the weekend may turn out to be the biggest hit, though, as Hannah Montana hits the big screen in the 3D movie of her hit concert tour, Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds. Apparently 12-year-olds can't get enough, and if they can convince a parent to drag themselves away from the Superbowl long enough to drive them to the multiplex, they could make the first big hit of a 3D concert movie.

The_eye_jessica_alba_posterTHE EYE. Opening in 2,200 theatres.The widest release of the weekend hasn't been screened for critics. As a remake of a Japanese horror movie starring Jessica Alba, it's not hard to see why. Alba's last films were Awake, which earned a Metacritic rating of 33, and Good Luck Chuck, which got an even-lower 19 rating. These two films earned her a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress of 2007, though she'll likely be beaten by Lindsay Lohan thanks to I Know Who Killed Me. Anyway. In The Eye Alba plays Sydney, a concert violinist who has been blind since birth. When she receives a corneal transplant, she begins seeing things from the past of the woman to whom the eyes once belonged. When the ghosts and the spirits start appearing, Sydney becomes involved in the supernatural world. I'm not entirely sure at what point the hand starts crawling out of the eye.

Hr_over_her_dead_body_posterOVER HER DEAD BODY. Opening in 1,950 theatres. Another new movie starring a woman who made her fame on television, Over Her Dead Body actually does have reviews...well, a few. Eva Longoria Parker plays Kate, a woman who is killed in a freak accident on her wedding day, but is so busy squabbling with the angels she meets in heaven that she is sent back to earth without even knowing what her purpose as a ghost is. She finds her ex-fiance (Paul Rudd) visiting a psychic to try to move on from her death, but gets jealous when he starts dating the comely psychic (Lake Bell). Kate decides to wreak havoc in the psychic's life in order to win her man back, even though she's, uh, a ghost. Jason Biggs also stars.

Paul Rudd has been on a roll lately with his supporting parts in Judd Apatow's movies, but Over Her Dead Body does not seem to be part of that trend. Gene Seymour at Newsday has some especially hilarious choice words: "There's something really special about the way Over Her Dead Body makes its 93 minutes seem more like nine hours. [...] This is the kind of film that makes you regret living in a world where tired cliches about flatulence, gay male best friends and cat owners can be served up as if they were fresh from the oven." At Slant Magazine Ed Gonzalez is no fan either, writing, "For his maiden outing behind the camera, John Tucker Must Die scribe Lowell exhibits zero directorial flair, but then again, virtually everything about his film is bungled." But at the L.A. Weekly, Nick Pinkerton is game: "Nobody was clamoring for this Blithe Spirit revival, but, real talk, it's a fine hiatus from earthly life."

Strange_wildernessSTRANGE WILDERNESS. Opening in 1,100 theatres. Targeting a young male audience the weekend of the Superbowl, and on the heels of Rambo, Meet the Spartans and Cloverfield, Strange Wilderness doesn't exactly have an easy road ahead. The comedy from Adam Sandler's Happy Madison productions stars Steve Zahn as the host of a nature show that's down in the ratings. To save his show he decides to hunt down Bigfoot, with the help of a ragtag group of friends (including Apple spokesman Justin Long, Superbad's Jonah Hill and frequent Sandler collaborator Allen Covert). The trailer hints at a lot of bong and fart jokes, as well as a guy whose crotch is attacked by a wild turkey. Draw your own conclusions.

Hannah HANNAH MONTANA/MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS. Opening in 680 theatres. Adolescent children and their parents should need no explanation of why this 3D concert movie is expected to be a smash success. Miley Cyrus is a teenage girl who has a secret alter ego as rock star Hannah Montana, as documented on the hit Disney TV show. When Miley/Hannah went on tour last year it was a phenomenal success, and now the movie captures the concert with brand-new digital 3D technology. Disney is booking the movie for a one-week-only run, building the kind of frenzy you usually only find for real concerts. At $15 a ticket with a rabid fanbase to draw into theatres, Best of Both Worlds is likely to make a huge splash this weekend, though in a limited 680 theatres. Critics haven't seen this one yet either, but given that the appeal is aimed toward tween girls, I'm not sure how much their opinion would matter at this point anyway.

Today's Film News: Cloverfield Monster Takes Another Whack at Manhattan

By Katey Rich


Even for a movie where most of the main characters are dead at the end, a sequel is always possible. That's what's happening with Cloverfield, now that Paramount has signed director Matt Reeves for a follow-up to the smash hit, as well as a chance to direct his own script, The Invisible Woman. Producer J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Drew Goddard will be back for the monster movie sequel, Variety reports; the first film has grossed over $65 million in just under two weeks of release. Shot on digital video with a cast of unknowns, Cloverfield cost $25 million to make.

Jared Hess, who made the breakout hit Napoleon Dynamite, has secured a cast for his next project, Gentlemen Broncos, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Michael Anganaro (Sky High), Sam Rockwell (Joshua) and Jemaine Clement (one half of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords") will star in the film, about a high school outcast who attends a sci-fi convention and discovers a well-known writer has ripped off one of his stories.

Just weeks after the death of the legendary chess champion, Kevin Macdonald will direct Bobby Fischer Goes to War, about the young American's match against Russian grand master Boris Spassky in 1972. Macdonald's feature directing debut, The Last King of Scotland, earned an Oscar for its star Forest Whitaker, and he's currently at work on the star-studded State of Play, an adaptation of the British miniseries. Variety notes that Macdonald will make the film for State of Play studio Universal.

New production studio Overture Films has struck a deal with the WGA, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that will allow production with union writers to resume at the studio. The Weinstein Company and Lionsgate have already established similar deals. Film Journal International featured Overture just a few months ago; you can read all about the studio here.

Finally, Variety reports that writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah) has established a production company with Michael Nozik and set it up at United Artists. The new shingle, Hwy61 Films, will take on the project Haggis already set up with the studio, which was one of the first to cut a side deal with the WGA and allow union writers to work on its projects. The first film will be Ranger's Apprentice, based on the fantasy novels about a young man training as a ranger in order to protect a mythical kingdom.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Brendan Fraser Honored With ShoWest Award

By Katey Rich

Brendanfraser1 Brendan Fraser was almost poised for a blockbuster triple-header in 2008, with Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Inkheart all slated for release this year. Now that Inkheart has been pushed to early 2009 his schedule is a little clearer, but that hasn't stopped ShoWest from presenting him with the award for Distinguished Decade of Achievement in Film.

ShoWest, organized by the very same Nielsen Film Group that produces Film Journal International, is the annual convention of theatre owners that takes place in March in Las Vegas. There will be much, much more reporting on ShoWest in this space, including updates from the show floor from my editor, Kevin Lally. A key part of ShoWest is the final night banquet, where Fraser and other honorees will be presented with their awards. There will be a number of other announcements about who will be joining Fraser at the banquet in the upcoming days, but first let's take a look at what earned Fraser his honor.

In addition to his busy slate of movies this fall, Fraser is being recognized for his diverse body of work over the last decade-- it's fair to say he's come a long way since 1992's Encino Man. "From his roles in action-packed blockbusters such as The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and George of the Jungle, to his critically acclaimed roles in such independent films as Crash and Gods and Monsters, Fraser has delivered many inspirational performances over the past decade," said ShoWest's co-managing director Mitch Neuhauser when announcing the award.

Ten years ago, after a series of small supporting roles in the wake of Encino Man, Fraser broke out as a dramatic actor in Gods & Monsters, the critically acclaimed drama about Hollywood director James Whale, played by Ian McKellen. "The real surprise is Brendan Fraser as the guarded but vulnerable yard man," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. As Whale's gardener and love interest, the Washington Post wrote, Fraser brought "unexpected depth and nuance to his portrayal."

After a starring role in the sublimely silly comedy Blast to the Past the next year, Fraser truly rocketed into stardom with 1999's The Mummy, the adventure epic that made nearly $400 million worldwide. The movie, co-starring Rachel Weisz, inspired a 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns, which fared even better-- $433 million total worldwide.

But Fraser didn't settle for being a big-budget star. Immediately after The Mummy Returns Fraser starred alongside eventual Oscar-nominee Michael Caine in The Quiet American, Philip Noyce's period drama about two men caught up in a love triangle in Vietnam in the 1950s. Again, the critics were enamored with Fraser's talents.  "Fraser is funny and effective as a foil to the old pro," wrote the Chicago Reader. Fraser's biggest critical success, though, was to come a few years later, when he and a huge ensemble cast joined an independent movie that was to become the Oscar-winning Crash. Playing a Los Angeles district attorney whose relationship with his wife suffers after they are held up at gunpoint, Fraser again had the opportunity to stretch his acting skills in a new direction.

This year Fraser is back in action mode, with the Mummy sequel and the high-tech adventure movie Journey 3D, but he can be seen in a dramatic role right now, in Jieho Lee's The Air I Breathe. There are few stars out there who can headline an ensemble independent film and two big-budget blockbusters in one year, but as Brendan Fraser has proved in his last decade-plus of acting, there aren't too many kinds of roles he can't take and make his own.

Today's Film News: New Line Restarts Old Franchise

By Katey Rich


New Line, the studio famously searching for a new moneymaking franchise after the end of The Lord of the Rings and the utter flop of The Golden Compass, is restarting one of the oldest franchises in their library: the Nightmare on Elm Street saga. The trio behind a similar Friday the 13th relaunch--Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form-- will take charge of the remake. According to Variety it will overhaul the franchise in a way similar to the recent remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

As reported here yesterday, Mark Romanek has stepped down as director of The Wolf Man, a remake of the 1941 horror classic starring Claude Rains. The Hollywood Reporter now says that Romanek departed over budget disputes; he wanted more money, and the studio was intent on keeping the production under $100 million. Universal is now looking for a new director, and the start date has been pushed back to March.

Two of the stars of this season's romantic comedies will team up in The Ugly Truth. Katherine Heigl, star of the hit 27 Dresses, will be joined by Gerard Butler, who played opposite Hilary Swank in December's P.S. I Love You. Heigl plays a TV news producer forced to team up with a chauvinistic co-host (Butler) to prove his negative theories about true love. Robert Luketic directs the script by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith; all three were behind the mega-successful Legally Blonde.

Oliver Stone, whose Pinkville project fell apart in the wake of the writers strike, is back in business for his George W. Bush biopic. He announced last week that Josh Brolin would play the President, and now he has secured financing from the production and financing company QED, according to Variety. This could put the movie in theatres as early as this November, just in time to shake up the Presidential election.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

'Wolf Man' Director Makes Baffling Decision To Abandon Project

By Katey Rich

BeniciodeltoroAnthonyhopkins Even with the well of projects ready to start production drying up thanks to the writer's strike, Universal's The Wolf Man has been good to go. Now the project's director, Mark Romanek, has dropped out, leaving stars Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt hanging and the project itself in limbo. It's the second time Universal has seen a project stumble like this in recent months, as Variety points out; there was a scramble late last year when Brad Pitt and Edward Norton dropped out of the big-budget adaptation of the British TV miniseries "State of Play." Their roles were recast, with Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck respectively, but you imagine it was a nasty couple of days over there.

Romanek's departure has been attributed to "creative differences," which would mean pretty much anything. But as one "insider" noted on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood, "He just blew the chance of a lifetime." Romanek's only major feature film to this point was One Hour Photo, the tiny, dark and very good drama starring Robin Williams as a slightly-deranged photo shop clerk. He had a long career in music videos before then, including directing the video for Johnny Cash's cover of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt." Wolf Man, clearly, was going to be an entirely different direction for him.

But how many directors have gone from obscurity to directing a big-budget movie and had it fail them? Peter Jackson is the primary example of making the leap to the big time with one project, but how about Sam Raimi or Bryan Singer, who can pretty much do whatever they want thanks to their massively successful superhero movies? And in a world where Spider-Man mopes while swinging from building to building and even Paul Thomas Anderson is calling There Will Be Blood a "horror movie," directing a genre picture doesn't mean making one with all plot and no soul. Granted, a newcomer handed a $100 million budget wouldn't just get to run away and do whatever he wants, but if Romanek is as canny as his earlier work demonstrates, there's plenty there to work with. Plus he's got Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins in his cast-- there are many, many places you can go from there.

My bet? Script problems. I know that's been the boogeyman of every casting change since the strike began, but it's otherwise inconceivable that a man with everything to gain would drop out of this kind of project. We'll probably never hear the full story, since I imagine there are 10 lesser-known directors knocking down doors at Universal this very moment.Will the studios fess up that script problems are destroying their biggest projects? Given how negotiations seem to remain at a standstill, they'd likely rather die.

Wolf Man will be OK, unless del Toro for some reason bails as well. As for Mark Romanek, he may just be another unintended victim of this never-ending strike.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Weekend Roundup: Meet The Latest Insulting Parody

By Katey Rich


Well, I hope we're all proud of ourselves. After spending last weekend boosting January box office to record levels and paying money to see a monster movie that, while not a great work of art, was at least original, we're pretty much back to our old ways. Meet the Spartans, a parody exactly like all the other parodies that have come in recent years (Epic Movie, Date Movie, et al), took the #1 spot at the box office this weekend, with $18.7 million. That's less than half of what Cloverfield made when it topped last weekend's charts, but virtually identical to the take from Epic Movie a year ago, which proves that we as moviegoers never learn. There was no critical roundup for this movie on Friday, since there were no press screenings (obviously), but The Hollywood Reporter can tell us what we missed: "To relieve the deadening tedium, viewers can amuse themselves by counting the product placements." Wow.

Coming in at #2 was a hero who resembles those 300-parodying Spartans, Rambo, whose latest vigilante outing in the jungle slid in just under Spartans with $18.1 million. That's actually significantly more than Sylvester Stallone made with his last nostalgic retread of an old character, Rocky Balboa, which pulled in $12 million on its opening weekend in December 2006.

The weekend's other wide release, Untraceable, came in at #5, just under holdovers 27 Dresses (#3, $13.6 million) and Cloverfield (#4, $12.7 million). The Diane Lane cyber-thriller made $11.2 million. The switcheroo between 27 Dresses and Cloverfield is interesting, given that the monster movie was the box-office behemoth last weekend. Given that all the fervent fanboys likely faned out to see it on opening weekend, though, Cloverfield will probably continue sinking quickly in the box office rankings.

In perhaps the happiest news of the weekend, Juno crossed the $100 million mark, coming in at #6 with another $10 million. It was joined in the top ten for the first time by another Best Picture nominee, There Will Be Blood, which expanded to nearly 500 new theatres and earned $4.8 million, good for 8th place.

In-between the Oscar nominees was The Bucket List, hanging in there with $10 million at #7. And rounding out the top ten were National Treasure: Book of Secrets, at #9 with $4 million, and Mad Money at #10 with $4.6 million, miraculously hanging on to the top ten despite being virtually ignored in its release last weekend.

A number of other Oscar nominees made wider expansions over the weekend to cash in on the publicity, though none managed the same leap that Blood did. You can see their rankings in the full top 20 after the jump, courtesy of Box Office Mojo. The biggest movers were No Country for Old Men, which expanded to 289 more screens and doubled its box-office take, and Michael Clayton, which barnstormed 1,000 extra theatres to boost its revenue by 4,000%. Atonement, on the other hand, added 100 screens but saw its box-office take drop. Expect more craziness from these movies as they try to capitalize on Oscar success, especially if we get word that there will actually be a ceremony. Fingers crossed!

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NMeet the SpartansFox$18,725,000-2,605-$7,188$18,725,000-1
3227 DressesFox$13,600,000-40.9%3,074+17$4,424$45,347,000$302
73The Bucket ListWB$10,210,000-27.5%2,915-$3,502$57,684,000$455
811There Will Be BloodParV$4,887,000+66.1%885+496$5,522$14,764,000-5
97National Treasure: Book of SecretsBV$4,664,000-38.2%2,154-809$2,165$205,421,000-6
106Mad MoneyOver.$4,610,000-40.4%2,470-$1,866$15,284,000-2
118Alvin and the ChipmunksFox$4,550,000-34.5%2,430-532$1,872$204,159,000$607
12NHow She MoveParV$4,158,000-1,531-$2,715$4,158,000-1
Click here to find out more!
145First SundaySGem$3,300,000-57.7%1,503-710$2,195$34,467,000-3
1519No Country for Old MenMira.$2,503,000+106.1%1,107+289$2,261$52,036,000-12
169I Am LegendWB$2,195,000-55.1%1,405-1,120$1,562$251,650,000-7
1741Michael ClaytonWB$2,060,000+4,504.9%1,102+1,069$1,869$41,488,000-17
1813Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet StreetP/DW$1,250,000-53.4%936-571$1,335$50,632,000$506
1914The Pirates Who Don't Do AnythingUni.$1,234,000-52.7%1,016-324$1,214$10,281,000-3
20NU2 3DNGC$946,000-61-$15,508$1,163,000-1

Friday, January 25, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Back to the January Doldrums

By Katey Rich

Last weekend was a strange one by January standards. Box-office records were set, people went to the movies in record numbers, and the kind of pictures that usually dominate the summertime multiplexes-- a romantic comedy, a monster movie-- had their time in the sun. This weekend, though, it's back to normal: a throwaway thriller, a sequel nobody asked for, a brainless parody, and a movie that seems to be entirely about hot people dancing. As you can tell, the advertising campaigns for these movies haven't exactly focused on the plots. There's a fair chance that Cloverfield will experience a huge drop in popularity now that all the die-hard fans have seen it, but there still may be enough people anxious to see New York destroyed that it will edge out the new competition. That said, let's take a look at the newbies, at least the ones that have been screened for critics.

PosterramboRAMBO. Opening in 2,751 theatres. Man, remember this guy? We last saw him back in 1988, doing his mercenary thing in Afghanistan in Rambo III. He's hightailed it out of there since then, for obvious reasons, and is now in the Burmese jungle, helping two American missionaries against the evil Burmese army. Sylvester Stallone returns as writer and director to the franchise that, along with Rocky, made him a star. Julie Benz, Matthew Marsden and Paul Schulze also star. And, of course, blood, guts and guns star as well.

None of the critics seem terribly excited to see Rambo make his triumphant return. "Not as bombastic as its predecessors, which is both its blessing and its curse," writes Newsday, where they seem to miss seeing tanks fly into helicopters. The Portland Mercury is also not quite thrilled: "Rambo stays on the verge of being a rousing dumbass flick at all times�you've never seen so many mid-air organs�yet its combination of outrageous bodily trauma and beagle-eyed moments of reflection never quite makes it go over the top." Stephanie Zacharek at is of two minds, writing, "There may be no real reason for this new Rambo to exist. Then again, what's wrong with a little animal brawn now and then?" And A.O. Scott at The New York Times is also ready to welcome Rambo back to the fold: "His face looks like a misshapen chunk of granite, and his acting is only slightly more expressive, but the man gets the job done. Welcome back."

Untraceable_2UNTRACEABLE. Opening in 2,368 theatres. We all thought MySpace was one of the worst things that came from the Internet, but that's nothing compared to what's facing cyber-crime expert Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) in Untraceable. At the website, a psychotic killer has brought kidnapped victims into a lair equipped with a video camera, where anyone can log on and watch the torture unfold. The more people who visit the site, the faster the victim dies. Jennifer must track down the killer, whose website is, ahem, untraceable, while trying to keep herself, her partner and her own family safe.

Though the critics have huge crushes on Diane Lane, most of them admit even she can't save this by-the-numbers thriller. "Untraceable isn't the sophisticated, brainy thriller it so nearly could have been, but just another movie about a serial murderer," writes The Washington Post. "It begins to practice the very hypocrisy it condemns in its audience, engaging in the rancid voyeurism it pretends to abhor." The Chicago Tribune is also disappointed in the movie's use of "torture porn," calling it "a two-faced bummer. It sets up the usual charnel-house contraptions, then shakes its head at the depravity of it all." Elsewhere in Chicago, though, Roger Ebert finds it "Lean and well-acted [...] a horrifying thriller, smart and tightly told, and merciless." Rex Reed at the New York Observer likes it just fine as well: "Untraceable does its job with goose bumps to spare."

Howshemoveposter0HOW SHE MOVE. Opening in 1,531 theatres. It's a tough world out there in the step dancing community, as shown in Ian Iqbal Rashid's How She Move. Raya (Rutina Wesley) was a great dancer when she left to attend a private school, but since she blew the entrance exam and lost her scholarship, she's had to return to the neighborhood she left behind. By entering a step dancing competition, though, she has a chance to win a $50,000 prize and return to school. That involves joining a team led by a tough-yet-attractive guy (Dwain Murphy), as well as ignoring her schoolwork to the despair of her mom (Melanie Nicholls-King). But how much do you want to bet that, at the end, Raya overcomes her obstacles and succeeds?

Despite the familiar formula, most critics fell hard for the dancing drama. "It is, in short, the kind of movie that sinks or swims on its performances and atmosphere. How She Move is aces in both departments, from its magnetic cast of skilled dancer-actors to its script," writes Matt Zoller Seitz of The New York Times. LIsa Schwarbaum at Entertainment Weekly is even more exuberant: "She move good!"  Variety calls the dance sequences "enormously enjoyable," and adds, "Ian Iqbal Rashid infuses the production with a grit and weightiness that never feel overdone, and his most dramatically effective moments -- including the unexpectedly resonant ending -- are often the quietest."  Newsday, on the other hand, doesn't find any resonance in it at all: "Content to remain a teen flick, hoping to satisfy its audience with a hip-hop soundtrack, a few cute faces and music-video set-pieces."

4months_2 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. Opening in 2 theatres. Cristian Mungiu's naturalistic drama won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, but didn't even make the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language film, an omission that has certain bloggers calling for pitchforks and torches. The Romanian drama follows two college roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), navigating the seamy underworld of their city to try to procure Gabita an abortion. Cooperating with the slimy abortionist Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), rearranging their plans over and over again, Gabita and Otilia undergo changes in their friendship as each of them considers their uncertain future. Much of the movie is shot in continuous long takes by the acclaimed cinematographer Oleg Mutu.

Unquestionably, 4 Months is one of the most critically loved releases in years. "Misery is everywhere in this spare masterpiece, but so is artistic triumph," writes Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly. Our own Rex Roberts calls it "a ragtag tour de force [...] this first feature by under-40 filmmaker Cristian Mungiu reveals unexpected depth and intensity." Anthony Lane at The New Yorker was engrossed, writing, "Mungiu's pacing is so sure, however, in its switching from loose to taut, and the concentration of his leading lady so unwavering, that the movie feels more like a thriller than a moody wallow." J.Hoberman at the Village Voice praises the film, but asks the necessary question for a foreign art film without an Oscar nod and showing in two theatres: "By any standard, 4 Months is a white-knuckle deal. Is there an audience?"

Meet_the_spartansMEET THE SPARTANS. Opening in 2,605 theatres. Meet the Spartans was not screened for critics. Don't even pretend to be surprised.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

U2 3D Opens Wide After Dazzling Sundance

By Katey Rich


In the Carpetbagger blog earlier this week, The New York Times' David Carr described the crowd outside a Sundance screening of U2 3D as "a massive crush." He goes on to describe the frenzy, explaining, "The guy next to the Bagger said that he had heard of offers of $1,000 for a $15 ticket. To a movie."

I'm not lucky enough to be in Park City this week, but all I can say to that is, well, of course. U2 3D, released exclusively in 3D today, is a spectacle beyond belief, a multi-layered, multi-dimensional concert movie that takes the old 3D format way, way beyond the red and blue plastic lenses of old. But perhaps the most amazing thing is that U2 3D is not alone, but part of what might be a new wave of 3D concert movies bringing the roar of the crowd to the multiplex.

"It's taking audiences someplace they couldn't go," said Mark Katz, president of National Geographic Cinema Ventures, which is distributing U2 3D."[It's] putting audiences in the concert like they're in the stadium. 3D does that brilliantly."

U22 U2 3D was directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, the former a longtime collaborator with the band to create the visual look of the concerts. On their Vertigo tour U2 played before several giant screens, which featured abstract animation, images of the band and, yes, occasionally political messages (this is Bono, after all). In U2 3D, Owens and Pellington incorporate the animation into the 3D layers, creating at some moments four different dimensional layers: the screen, the band, the audience, and above it all, the animation. The effect is to sweep up the theatrical audience as much as a concert audience would be, making the experience even larger than the movies, if not larger than life.

Catherine Owens said about as much when I interviewed her for a Film Journal article about 3D concert movies: "It was less about making the film, because none of us are filmmakers, and more about extending the U2 live experience." She and her collaborators filmed several concerts over the course of the Vertigo tour, all of them in Latin or South America. Certain locations were dedicated to getting certain kinds of shots, and at the end of the tour the band agreed to one concert with no audience, so the cameras could capture some of the film's breathtaking close-ups. "The desire was to make a film that would capture [the band's] intimacy of how they are with each other, and how it extends out into the audience," Owens explained.

I laughed especially hard reading about the celebrity-studded mob outside U2 3D at Sundance, given National Geographic's plans for distributing the film. Suffice it to say, Bono and company ain't goin' nowhere. "This film can play everywhere. There's no reason why both the hardcore U2 fans as well as fans of 3D can't see the film again and again over time," Katz said. "We absolutely hope to and plan to have return engagements and make it as evergreen as possible."

The reviews are in for U2 3D and the critics seem as enamored with the experience as I was. You can read more of what I learned about U2 3D, as well as fellow 3D concert movie Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds, in my Film Journal article "In Tune with 3D."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Weekend Roundup: New York Destroyed, Box Office Saturated

By Katey Rich

Clover Yeah, yeah, Oscar nominations, whatever. Let's talk about what really matters: money. It may come as a surprise to you, but a movie that was heavily promoted on the Internet and that taps into a passionate sci-fi fanbase made money, a lot of it, this weekend. Cloverfield benefited from the hype-to end-all-hype and scored $46 million at the box office, almost $20 million more than the damn thing cost to make, which sets a new record for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.

Debuting just as strongly given its expectations was 27 Dresses, which came in at #2 with $22 million, possibly snaring all the girlfriends of the Cloverfield fanboys who didn't want to see New York get blown up for the zillionth time. It came in way ahead of #3-finisher The Bucket List, which netted $14 million over the three-day period. The only other new release of the weekend, Mad Money, brought in $7.6 million to land at #7.

Juno stayed healthy in its seventh week in release, bringing in almost $10 million for a fourth-place finish. Its fellow Best Picture nominee Atonement rounded out the top ten once again, bringing in $4.7 million by expanding wider once again. It just edged out There Will Be Blood, which gave up its top per-theatre average spot by venturing on its first wide expansion, but got $2.9 million and a #11 spot for its trouble (Cloverfield had the best per-theatre average this time, at a whopping $11,000; Blood came in second with a still-impressive $7,500).

The rest of the top ten was filled out with the usual suspect holdovers, with First Sunday bringing in $7.8 million and dropping to #5 in its third week. Right behind it was National Treasure: Book of Secrets, at $7.6 million in sixth place. Alvin and the Chipmunks and I Am Legend fell in at #8 and #9, respectively, with $6.9 million and $4.8 million apiece.

Check out the top 20 below, thanks to Box Office Mojo as always, where you can catch up on some of the Oscar nominees that were (No Country for Old Men, Charlie Wilson's War), and weren't (The Great Debaters, what happened?) Also, there are still more people seeing One Missed Call than Sweeney Todd, which defies everything all the politicians running for office right now are saying about America being a country worth fighting for. Trust me, Sweeney has more blood, more logic, and more Johnny Depp, which in any sane country would be an unbeatable combination.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
2N27 DressesFox$22,750,000-3,057+2,442$7,441$22,750,000$301
31The Bucket ListWB$14,010,000-27.8%2,915+4$4,806$41,569,000$454
52First SundaySGem$7,800,000-56.0%2,213-$3,524$28,466,000-2
64National Treasure: Book of SecretsBV$7,609,000-32.7%2,963-414$2,568$197,492,000-5
7NMad MoneyOver.$7,600,000-2,470-$3,076$7,600,000-1
85Alvin and the ChipmunksFox$6,900,000-25.8%2,962-422$2,329$196,280,000$606
96I Am LegendWB$4,870,000-40.5%2,525-828$1,928$247,447,000-6

Friday, January 18, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Fields of Clover

By Katey Rich

Hooray! At last we have a weekend in 2008 in which there is a movie that people are actually excited to see! Not only that, we have at least two, and two more if you count tiny movies with small but very dedicated fanbases. It's like December all over again, except now no one is competing for an Oscar anymore, which makes it even better. Though there are movies out there for all the demographics, even Woody Allen fans, we all know there's one monster that's going to stomp all over the box office as if it were the Woolworth Building. The Cloverfield monster doesn't have a name yet, but count on at least one clever nickname before the weekend is through.

CloverfieldCLOVERFIELD. Opening in 3,411 theatres. Is there even a need for a plot description at this point? Seen from the viewpoint of a handheld video camera belonging to a group of twenty-something friends, Cloverfield documents the destruction of New York City at the hands of a very vicious, very mysterious, very large monster. The monster's identity, as well as most details about the movie, have been kept under wraps for months as part of a massive online marketing campaign. The campaign worked; the excitement for this $25 million marketing movie trumps the buzz for the next Batman installment, and that's really saying something. It's been 10 years since The Blair Witch Project; ready for round two?

The critics are, for the most part, ready and willing. "A surreptitiously subversive, stylistically clever little gem of an entertainment disguised, under its deadpan-neutral title, as a dumb Gen-YouTube monster movie," writes Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, giving the film a B+ overall. The San Francisco Chronicle runs with the same YouTube metaphor, but seems to like the whole thing even more: "Even though Cloverfield isn't the Godzilla-for-the-YouTube-generation picture that everyone may have been hoping for, it's still a terrific movie, filled with spectacle and a surprising amount of humor, which makes up for its lack of terror or emotional impact." "There's something refreshing about a monster movie that isn't filled with the usual suspects, like The Hero, The Rebel and The Cynic," writes The Hollywood Reporter, predicting that the movie seems "destined to bring in plenty of youth-skewing green for Paramount this Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend." A dissenting voice is the Los Angeles Times, which found much to enjoy but quibbles with the handheld camcorder approach: "While it injects the film with a run-and-gun urgency, the device grows tiresome and ultimately leaves the film shortchanged."

27dresses27 DRESSES. Opening in 3,057 theatres. Katherine Heigl is well on her way to becoming the new It Girl of romantic comedy, after her turn in last summer's Knocked Up and now a starring role here. She plays Jane, a career woman who is so supportive, and so self-sacrificing, that she's been talked into being a bridesmaid 27 times. When her younger sister gets engaged to the boss Jane has harbored a crush on for all these years, she's again serving bridesmaid duties, which catches the attention of a smarmy wedding reporter (James Marsden). Chaos ensues, of course, as Jane performs her bridesmaid duties while pining for the groom but possibly also falling in love with the cynical reporter.

Critics agree that the movie is as formulaic as it gets, but some fall for it while others would have rather stayed home. "It's hard to imagine a set of complications more routine, but the way that this tiered cake of a farce has been staged, you can practically lick the white frosting off of the plot," writes Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly. Our Daniel Eagan is similarly unamused: "In spite of its smart premise, Aline Brosh McKenna's script seems compiled of bits and pieces that worked better in other movies." Variety, on the other hand, fell for the formula, but mostly the star: "Heigl effortlessly radiates the kind of charisma that can make auds fall in love with a character (and, of course, the actress who plays her)." And Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer fell for Marsden and Heigl as a package deal: "These troupers with more than 30 years of professional work between them have never shone so brightly. It may sound contradictory, but loved them, hated it."

Mad_money_poster_052007 MAD MONEY. Opening in 2,470 theatres. Did you know that its some people's job to just destroy money? Think about that next time you shell out for a $10 sandwich. In Mad Money three women find themselves with precisely that job, and since one of them (Diane Keaton) is a suburban housewife fallen on hard times, she decides to take all that worn-out money to keep up her standard of living. She enlists two other women in the scheme (Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes), and they're rolling in the dough... until, of course, the Feds catch on to their scheme. Ted Danson also stars.

Most of the critics weren't willing to just take the Money and run. "Keaton brings her usual eccentric energy to the role and, as always, is a pleasure to watch, but no amount of goofy behavior or money porn can compensate for a story that plays like it was written on the cheap," writes the Los Angeles Times. "As the movie invites you to share their delight, you may feel a tad unclean. Is wealth, ill-gotten or not, the answer to everything? Yes, yes, yes! proclaims the movie," The New York Times chimes in. But Newsday finds some serious political messages in this crime caper: "Latifah and Danson come off best, giving relaxed, down-to-earth performances that ground this comic fantasy with a sobriety that seems just right for the economic eggshell walk that is America in 2008."

CassandrasdreamposterCASSANDRA'S DREAM. Opening in 107 theatres. Woody Allen's latest was supposed to come out in December, presumably to qualify for Oscar consideration, but was pushed back at the last minute. It stars two London brothers, Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell, who are desperate to raise money and decide to commit a murder to do it. As it did in Allen's Match Point, it all goes downhill from there. Tom Wilkinson and Hayley Atwell also star.

It seems they made a smart choice in delaying this one, since critics indicate Cassandra would have never had a shot in the Oscar race. "The identical premise is used in Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which is like a master class in how Allen goes wrong," writes Roger Ebert. David Denby at The New Yorker concedes that the film has some "fine moments," but concludes, "Allen's movie, however, is stalled by overexplicitness and chattiness, and, as in the past, I'm not convinced that he has a good ear for British speech." And Variety also takes issue with the dialogue: "Allen's dialogue never establishes a consistent tone, and often sounds awkward in the Londoners' mouths." But Entertainment Weekly sees all those flaws and enjoys the enterprise regardless: "Cassandra's Dream feels like an exercise: the demonstration of a theme rather than the blood-on-the-carpet embodiment of it. Yet it's never boring, because McGregor and Farrell bring such verve and style and quickened life to their roles."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Checking In With Diablo Cody and Ellen Page

By Katey Rich


As Diablo Cody and Ellen Page continue making the rounds through the publicity circuit for Juno, the details on their next projects are already emerging. The two have swiftly become icons of girl power, and with their upcoming movies about cheerleading vampires and roller derby skaters, they don't seem to be giving up the mantle any time soon.

It was announced a while ago that Cody's next script in production would be Jennifer's Body, a satire about a cheerleader who becomes posessed by a demon spirit and leaves her best friend to try and stop the carnage. Now, a.k.a. Cinematic Happenings Under Development, has a review of the screenplay, which will star Megan Fox as the titular teenager who develops a taste for blood. CHUD writer Jeremy Smith, an admitted fan of Juno, compares the screenplay to Heathers and Joss Whedon's work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Though the story is packed full of jokes and pop culture references, much like Juno, Smith says "Jennifer's Body falls somewhere in between character piece and commercial entertainment."

The movie begins with Jennifer's best friend Needy, the nerdy unpopular girl to Jennifer's beloved cheerleader, admitting that she killed her friend, and she only regrets not doing it sooner. We flash back to a rock concert, where Jennifer was invited backstage with the band, who attempt to use her for a virgin sacrifice but... well, she's not a virgin. The sacrifice backfires, which results in Jennifer inheriting the demon spirit from the skeezy band. As you can probably guess, it's all downhill from there.

Though he has his issues with the screenplay, Smith seems pleased overall : "It may not work all the way as satire, but it's briskly paced and very, very funny." He indicates that humor comes largely from the same snappy dialogue that made some viewers' ears bleed in Juno, but he's rightly concerned that a different cast might not be able to pull it off. "I'm especially happy that I saw Juno before I read this script; Cody's dialogue has the tendency to sound stilted on the page. This makes me wonder if lesser actors can handle her stylized banter; it's not every time that you're going to get spoiled with the likes of Ellen Page, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons and so on."

Speaking of Miss Page, she's just committed to her next project, a story of roller derby and beauty pageants and the area in-between called Whip It! It will be Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, and it's based on a novel by Shauna Cross, whose derby name was Maggie Mayhem. Unfamiliar with roller derby? It can be best described as rugby on wheels-- impossible to understand the rules, but so physically demanding and rough you can't help but be mesmerized. The story follows a young woman whose mother pressures her to enter into the beauty pageant circuit, but whose heart lies with throwing elbows and skating with the derby. The title refers to a signature move in roller derby used to propel one teammate ahead of the pack, which, trust me, is crucial to scoring points in the sport.

It's a fair argument that Page is running the risk of being typecast, but since her choices up to this point have also included a vigilante movie (Hard Candy) and an X-Men installment, the two-in-a-row "smart, sassy teenager" movies shouldn't be held against her. Variety reports that Barrymore had been interested in the script for a while, but that development only picked up when Page expressed interest. She's doing the smartest thing a smart young woman in Hollywood can do: making sure more movies about smart young women get made. It's the same thing Cody is doing with her screenplays, and something that really can't be done often enough.