Friday, May 30, 2008

Today's Film News: More Sex, More City?

By Katey Rich

Sexandthecitymovie1Not everyone can snag a first-look deal with a major studio the same day of their feature directing debut, but it seems when you've got Sex and the City on your side, the rules are a little different. Michael Patrick King, who wrote and directed this weekend's guaranteed blockbuster, has signed a deal with DreamWorks for his next project, Variety reports today. While he says the project won't be a sequel to Sex and the City, he doesn't rule out the possibility either. Speaking as a fan of the show-- stop it! Stop it now! Leave well enough alone!

Robert Rodriguez is still apparently planning a remake of Barbarella following his success in the horror/action world (Sin City, Planet Terror), but in the meantime he'll be making a pretty big shift. The Hollywood Reporter writes that he'll direct the family adventure movie Shorts, about a town swept up in a craze when a local boy discovers a rainbow-colored rock that grants wishes. Huh? William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, Jon Cryer and James Spader will fill in the grown-up roles, with Kat Dennings and Jimmy Bennett representing the younger generation.

McbrideDavid Gordon Green is another director making a shift in genre, going from indies like George Washington and All the Real Girls to this summer's Pineapple Express. It seems he'll continue heading in that direction, Variety reports, directing the comedy Your Highness with Pineapple star (and college friend) Danny McBride. McBride, who I am convinced is the next big thing in comedy, will play an arrogant, lazy prince who has to save his father's kingdom.

And finally, National Lampoon has wandered through the weeds a little lately, making low-budget comedies no one really wanted to see. It seems they're hoping to get the mojo back by returning to their fertile roots: college. The production company has gotten behind the spec script Frat Chance, the Reporter writes, about a nerd who must pledge a fraternity to fulfill his scholarship. We can't even imagine the hijinks that will ensue. Well, we can, but we can't imagine how they'll be funny the 10th time around.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Let's Talk About Sex

By Katey Rich

After a May full of explosions and superheroes and battles of all kinds, it's finally-- finally!-- time again for a movie for women. And Sex and the City, if some predictions are correct, may turn out to be the biggest chick flick of them all. Based on purely anecdotal evidence, women who rarely go to the movies (my mom) and women who rarely go to chick flicks (me) are flocking to theatres this weekend, along with the show's existing die-hard fans (my sister). Male heroes will dominate the movie marketplace for the rest of the summer, but this weekend is the time for ladies to put on their fancy shoes and come to theatres in droves.


SEX AND THE CITY. Opening in 3,100 theatres. Three years after the show's series finale, the women of Sex and the City have made it to the big screen. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is still with her soulmate Mr. Big (Chris Noth), but talk of commitment soon brings about trouble. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) has moved out to the West Coast to manage the career of her actor boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis), while Charlotte (Kristin Davis) remains happily married with Harry (Evan Handler) and her adopted daughter Lily. And Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is settling into life in Brooklyn with Steve (David Eigenberg) until a crisis of faith threatens their marriage.

The fact is that the Sex and the City movie is a two-hour-plus version of the TV show; some critics fell for it, while others left the theatre screaming. "May well be the most effervescent film fantasy since Beauty and the Beast," writes Carrie Rickey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. And Claudia Puig at USA Today cheers, "As indulgences go, this one is easier on the waistline than downing a tub of Ben & Jerry's and won't deplete the wallet like a Louis Vuitton handbag." But the fun isn't just limited to the female critics. Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly calls the movie "a big sweet tasty layer cake stuffed with zingers and soul and dirty-down verve," and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone writes that "Parker is funny, touching and vital." On the other hand... Rex Reed calls it "nearly two and a half hours of tedium and gratuitous product placement," and Variety sighs, "Even a glossed-up version of Manhattan is a hard place to go home again."

StrangersposternewbigTHE STRANGERS. Opening in 2,400. It seems that no one can go to their remote vacation retreat any more without being viciously attacked, at least as the movies would have it. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple doing just that, until three strangers wearing masks interrupt their idyll. I'd tell you more, but aren't the surprises part of the fun?

Some critics think this is a cut above typical horror fare, while others see it as the same-old nonsense. Our Ethan Alter is a little split: "Before it careens off the rails halfway through its slender 90-minute runtime, The Strangers treats moviegoers to what may be the creepiest opening act of any American-made horror film in recent memory." The Arizona Republic calls it "a straightforward white-knuckled shocker," and the Chicago Tribune credits director Bryan Bertino's skill: "Real suspense requires a real connection, and Bertino�with Tyler and Speedman�has created both." But The Charlotte Observer says the movie "drags itself forward like a gut-shot deer," and MSNBC complains that the movie's scares become "colossally repetitive."


THE FOOT FIST WAY. Opening in 4 theatres. This shot-on-digital comedy debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and has since become something of a sensation with some of the most influential people in comedy right now, among them Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Jody Hill wrote his directorial debut with Ben Best and Danny McBride, both of whom appear in the film as a kung fu teacher (McBride) and his celebrity idol (Best) who meet and square off after a series of mundane foibles. McBride's character, Fred Simmons, considers himself "king of the demo," and is the kind of small-brained, big-egoed doofus Ferrell has succeeded in playing in any number of movies.

Some critics are charmed by this low-budget, silly romp, while others are just worn out. "Far less interesting than the hoopla surrounding it," writes our Ethan Alter. The Associated Press complains, "The movie ultimately goes nowhere, and looks shoddy in a way that doesn't even have a kitschy appeal." But Peter Travers at Rolling Stone promises "you'll laugh helplessly," and Armond White at the New York Press, in his usual inimitable way, claims that the film "represents an alternative vision uncorrupted by the usual film-culture snobbery."

Today's Film News: No No No!

By Katey Rich

Before we get into today's first, most hilarious piece of film news, I will direct you to this video, taken from many, many scenes from last summer's Transformers.

OK. That's pretty much what I said when I read today's Hollywood Reporter piece that Michael Bay will be producing a movie based on... Ouija. You know, the game where you become convinced a piece of cardboard has become psychic and is predicting your future, when it's actually your friend forcing the piece to spell out your crush's name? Ouija is produced by Hasbro, also the makers of the Transformers toys, of course. The toy company has a six-year deal with Universal to develop projects based on its products, and somehow, instead of movies based on Hasbro games like Monopoly, Risk or even Mouse Trap, we are getting a Ouija movie.

The Terminator series is all about people traveling from other times, so it makes sense that they would add a blast from the past to the cast of the upcoming Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins. Shirley Manson, the frontwoman for the mid-90s grunge band Garbage, will play the CEO of a high-tech company, according to The Hollywood Reporter. So the future is actually a lot like 1996?

Dwight Fans of TV's "The Office" know that Dwight Schrute probably believes in Transformers, and belives he could beat them in a fight, given half a chance. So it's pretty thrilling to hear that Rainn Wilson himself will have a small role in the upcoming Transformers 2, according to the Reporter. He'll play the professor of Shia LaBeouf's character, apparently a freshman in college now. Hopefully he'll bring along Dwight's ninja gear and prepare to kick some serious ass.

And finally, Brett Ratner really won't stop ruining everything. Having driven two franchises into the ground, he's moving on to a third, planning a fourth Beverly Hills Cop movie, with Eddie Murphy slated to reprise his role as Axel Foley. Variety reports that Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the first film back in 1984, won't even be involved this time. When you find yourself missing the artistic input of Jerry Bruckheimer, you know times are hard.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Today's Film News: Minghella and Pollack Leave Legacies, and Confusion

By Katey Rich

MinghellaPollackAnthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack were the powerhouse producers behind Mirage Films, the production company with a first-look deal at The Weinstein Company. But after Minghella's death in March and Pollack's on Monday, the fate of the company is up in the air, writes The Hollywood Reporter. It's all speculation at this point, but the article suggests that Mirage products not attached to co-producers (such as the HBO movie The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and a remake of the German hit drama The Lives of Others) may be shepherded by the Weinsteins or Pollack's daughter Rebecca, formerly an exec at United Artists. It's at least good to know that, following the loss of two great filmmakers, there are people willing to make sure their last efforts will see the light of day.

The fact that the biggest movie release of the weekend is aimed squarely at women is sending box-office pundits into a panic. Variety reports that, while women all over the country are preparing to line up for midnight screenings of Sex and the City, men would "rather be shot than sit through the movie." The most optimistic numbers have Sex and the City making Devil Wears Prada kind of numbers, while those of us who are not box-office experts but know plenty of women feel confident that this movie will make way, way more money than anyone expects. Mark my words: Indiana Jones may even get a run for his money from four women in stilettos.

StoeIn America, when celebrities say stupid things in public, we either give them a reality show or, very occasionally, make them apologize on "Oprah." In China, though, one slip of the tongue can mean being banned for life. That's the fate facing Sharon Stone, according to The Reporter, who said at Cannes that the recent earthquakes in China were "karma" for China's treatment of Tibet. The country is now banning all of Stone's films, which means the country's teenagers will have a lot fewer options for the Friday night tradition of renting a movie just to make fun of it.

Wedding comedies seem to be the rage now, and with screenwriters running out of ideas for how to make nuptials entertaining, they're resorting to hostage situations. Variety reports that Touchstone will produce the spec comedy script Wedding Banned, about a long-divorced couple who kidnap their daughter on her wedding day to keep her from making the mistake of her life. All this, you know,  instead of talking it out like grown-ups before the dresses were paid for.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Weekend Roundup: How Many Crystal Skulls Can $101 Million Buy?

By Katey Rich


I haven't been able to get the Indiana Jones theme out of my head all weekend, and neither has the rest of America. We as a nation sent the fourth Indy movie to a rollicking $101 million opening weekend, with an additional $50 million from its Thursday and Monday playdates. That makes it the second-best Memorial Day opening of all time, behind only last summer's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. The crazy people who though Indy might best the five-day record set by Revenge of the Sith two years ago were disappointed, but otherwise, there are plenty of happy people on the Paramount lot.

Elsewhere, though, it's a mixed bag. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian managed to snag second place after last week's first-place bow, despite a 58% audience decline that resulted in a meager $28 million take for the weekend. (The rest of these figures will be for the three-day weekend period, by the way.) For contrast, look at Iron Man, which came in right behind it with $20 million despite having been in theatres for an extra two weeks. Given that Iron Man still holds the record for the biggest opening of the summer, we may see it hanging on even longer than some of these other upstart blockbusters.

The rest of the list was populated with some smaller numbers, all of them in the single-digit millions. What Happens in Vegas hung on OK at #4 with $9 million, well ahead of Speed Racer, which came in at #5 with a weak $3 million. Clustered right behind it were movies Speed Racer was intended to cream, like Made of Honor (at #6 with $3.3 million) and the ever-durable Baby Mama (#7, $3.3 million). All of these movies are quickly shedding theatres, as is Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which feels like it's been around forever but is still bringing in audiences, coming in at #8 with $1.7 million.

Rounding out the top ten were two movies that couldn't even break $1 million. (Shows you how much of the national audience Indy managed to eat.) Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay makes its last stop in the top ten with $940 K, while The Visitor keeps hanging on at #10, drawing in the adult audiences the summer blockbusters won't bother with; the indie drama netted $723 K, bringing its total to an impressive $4.3 million.

Given how much money is contained within the top ten this week, Box Office Mojo didn't even bother to number anything after #11 (Forbidden Kingdom, if you're interested). So check out the listings for the top ten after the jump, and just wait 'til next weekend, when yet another blockbuster comes out and the summer movie season rolls merrily along.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullPar.$101,000,000-4,260-$23,708$126,041,000$1851
21The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince CaspianBV$23,032,000-58.2%3,929-$5,862$91,077,000$2002
32Iron ManPar.$20,142,000-36.7%3,915-239$5,144$252,309,000$1404
43What Happens in VegasFox$9,000,000-35.2%3,188-67$2,823$54,246,000$353
54Speed RacerWB$3,975,000-51.0%3,112-494$1,277$36,188,000$1203
65Made of HonorSony$3,350,000-28.8%2,393-423$1,399$39,011,000$404
76Baby MamaUni.$3,324,000-29.0%2,158-345$1,540$52,132,000$305
87Forgetting Sarah MarshallUni.$1,752,000-37.1%1,078-523$1,625$58,281,000$306
98Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo BayNL$940,000-52.9%750-653$1,253$35,933,000$125
1010The VisitorOver.$723,000+7.5%270+46$2,677$4,374,000-7

Friday, May 23, 2008

Today's Film News: Brett Ratner One Step Closer to World Domination

By Katey Rich

620bigguitarhero_3I can't believe I'm about to mention "American Idol" here for the second time in two days, but it keeps being relevant to movie news. During the show's finale on Thursday, two commercials for Guitar Hero featured the final contestants acting out the dancing-in-the-underwear scene from Risky Business-- holding Guitar Hero guitars, of course. Turns out that was the brainchild of Brett Ratner, who will be using his expertise in exceedingly commercial filmmaking to make, well, commercials. Variety announced today that he's forming Brett Ratner Brands as a consultancy business, teaching ad execs how to harness the power of the movies to sell who knows what. Turns out, there is no God but money, and Brett Ratner is its messenger.

I was going to say something in the previous item about how it meant the apocalypse was nigh, but I think this next bit of news proves it even better. Uwe Boll, director of the famously loathed Alone in the Dark and In the Name of the King, is working on two new movies based on real stories: Stoic, about a group of prisoners who tortured a fellow inmate, and Janjaweed, about the Sudanese militia groups accused of conducting the Darfur genocide. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Boll as saying, "What can I lose? I got so bashed for my video game adaptations I don't care anymore." I wish I could not care anymore, but right now I'm so depressed at the thought of these movies I want to crawl under my desk.

Mike_tyson_wall_2005_1280On to the best news I can scrounge up today: Cannes is actually hosting some sales! The independent film industry isn't dead (yet)! Sony Pictures Classics picked up the rights to the acclaimed documentary Tyson, while Focus and IFC "enjoyed a lot of action," according to Variety. While many foreign entries have been snapped up, some of the highest-profile American films mentioned yesterday-- Two Lovers, Che, and Synecdoche, New York-- remain homeless. Forget that recession, distributors, and get buying!

And finally, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made as much as $30 million yesterday, on a school night, says Fantasy Moguls. What did you do?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Crystal Box-Office Grosses

By Katey Rich

Ba-ba-ba-ba! Ba-ba-ba! Ba-ba-ba-BA! Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba! You know you're already singing along. It's finally-- finally!-- time for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and even though halfhearted reviews from critics have pretty much spoiled all the plot points, I am not deterred! By the time you read this I will have seen the movie on opening night, Sno Caps in one hand and popcorn in the other, mentally shushing all the talking idiots in the theater and fervently hoping for a secret Sean Connery cameo. And to prepare myself for the experience of seeing what might just be the biggest-opening movie in history, I'll look back over some of the reviews, along with a few more of the weekend's releases. Though, with Indy coming to over 4,000 screens and everything else opening on fewer than 10, it's not really a question of which one matters most.

Indy4posterfinalbigINDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Opening (Thursday) in 4,260 theatres. Well, it's been nearly 20 years since his last adventure, but intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is back in action. This time it's the Cold War, and the Russians are the bad guys, seeking control of the mysterious Crystal Skull, an artifact possibly left on Earth by aliens that imbues its owner with unbelievable power. Along on the journey are Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), a mouthy kid, and Indy's old flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). Cate Blanchett puts in a performance as the villainous Russian Irina Spalko, and John Hurt and Ray Winstone play Indy's colleagues, who may or may not be exactly what they seem.

It's not exactly fourth verse, same as the first, with this franchise revival, but most of the critics are happy enough to be in Indy's company, even if it's not as much fun as it used to be. Our Kevin Lally says the script "isn't as consistently satisfying as the best episodes in the series," but as a whole, the movie "feels of a piece with its predecessors." "It's the most tender, warm-spirited and entertaining picture Spielberg has made in years," writes, and the Washington Post cheers, "The boy is back in town." On the other hand, Manohla Dargis at The New York Times says the movie "comes alive only in isolated segments," and Rex Reed at The New York Observer curiously dubs it "a four-star yawn." And the Wall Street Journal sighs, "All of it amounts to a been-there-done-that-better recapitulation of Mr. Spielberg's career."

PostalPOSTAL. Opening in 4 theatres. Uwe Boll crowed for months about being the only filmmaker who dared to open against Indiana Jones this weekend, but his hubris resulted in only four theatres booking his film. An adaptation of the shoot 'em up video game, Postal is about two slackers who wind up, somehow, fighting the Taliban. The Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld" plays Osama bin Laden. Dave Foley plays one of the slackers, with Zack Ward as the other one. It's hard to figure out much more of a plot based on the reviews, so let's go ahead and get to those.

Well, what did you expect? It's Uwe Boll. Our Frank Lovece called Postal " a plodding series of bits designed to be either gross-out humor, slapstick humor (with lots of guns 'n' ammo) or 'daring, self-reflexive' humor." The Village Voice writes colorfully, "Anarchy, my ass�this movie's about as dangerous (or as funny) as a mouthy, caffeinated teen punk from the suburbs who just saw his first shit-flinging GG Allin performance on YouTube." Variety gives the movie at least a little credit: "This anything-goes exercise isn't dull -- one just wishes the outrageousness were more consistently funny." And some people even liked it! Film Threat writes, "Postal is so ballsy and unconcerned with playing touchy-feely that you have to admire the sheer joyful fearlessness that went in its making."

American Idol Finale Launches Summer Movie Marketing

By Katey Rich


Did you catch "American Idol" last night? Come on, you weren't just a tiny bit curious about which David would triumph, and how many sappy guest appearances you could tolerate before drinking yourself to sleep? I admit, I'm a very infrequent viewer of the show, but even I couldn't resist tuning in to last night's two-hour finale extravaganza. (Two hours! To announce one winner!) And I caught an onslaught of marketing, not from the usual "American Idol" partners, but from virtually every major movie that's coming out this summer.

I wrote a piece for this month's Film Journal about the creative ways marketers are targeting online audiences. But the one guaranteed place to get to viewers via good old-fashioned TV commercials is "American Idol," which pulls in the kind of broad demographics that usually only the Super Bowl can manage. Thus we saw ads for not only the family-friendly Kung Fu Panda and Get Smart, but the next big superhero movie The Hulk and Mike Myers' anti-PC comedy The Love Guru. Advertisers were smart, too. There were trailers during the commercial breaks, of course, but several stars stopped by the show in person, including Myers and the cast of an R-rated movie that doesn't come out for nearly three more months.

TropicthunderThe appearance by Tropic Thunder stars Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. was the cleverest promotion-- they appeared as The Pips under archive footage of Gladys Knight singing "Midnight Train to Georgia"-- even if it wasn't as funny as it should have been. But the subliminal marketing of it was brilliant. There's Black, who's coming up very soon in the family friendly Kung Fu Panda, and Downey, who's wowing audiences as Iron Man even as we speak. Both of these films are from Paramount, which is also distributing Tropic Thunder. Though the title of the August movie was never mentioned, seeing the three of them together is a trigger for those of us aware of the movie, and makes the otherwise uninitiated audience like them as a trio a bit more. Those three names together might not have made sense yesterday, but now when the ads for Tropic Thunder inundate us come July, some small part of us will say "Oh yeah! Those guys who were the Pips!"

The bit itself seemed a little poorly thought out, with not enough jokes and going on way too long, the entire length of the song. Why did Downey periodically wander off the set? Why did Black show up with his pants off at one point? And, seriously, why were the three of them never dancing in sync? But even with a B for execution, the idea gets an A for sheer synergistic brilliance. Check it out below, and if you like, take a look at the original (thanks to Slate's Idolatry for pointing it out) to realize which one of them would have truly been a great Pip. (I'm sure this is not really a mystery.)

Today's Film News: Demme Makes Sense Again

By Katey Rich

MarleyMartin Scorsese's ongoing campaign to become the High King of Music Documentaries will have to be put on hold, now that he's dropped out of directing an untitled doc about Bob Marley. But all is not lost! Jonathan Demme, who made the iconic concert movie Stop Making Sense, will take over, according to Variety. Scorsese's movie was the one that was approved by the Marley estate, while the unauthorized biopic planned by the Weinstein Company remains threatened by possible litigation.

The West Wing of Oliver Stone's White House is finally fully staffed. Richard Dreyfuss will soon sign on to play Vice President Dick Cheney, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and will presumably immediately head to the film's set in Louisiana. Some might argue that Dreyfuss doesn't have the required mien of evil and doom that a man playing Cheney would require, but given that he aged 30 years over the course of Mr. Holland's Opus, I fully expect the world from him.

GrayAs Cannes heads into its final weekend, the buying market is starting to look similar to the way it did at Sundance, when it took much longer than usual for some of the highest-profile projects to get picked up. Variety reports that two of the biggest films, James Gray's Two Lovers and Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche New York, have yet to be picked up. Steven Soderbergh's Che, which just debuted yesterday, also has no bites, but Soderbergh is considered "too big to ignore," the article states. Sign of the financial times, or sign of low quality? Only a distributor can help us find out.

And speaking of Che, the first, frenzied reviews are in, and they are decidedly mixed. Variety complains that "if anything, Che seems diminished by the way he's portrayed here," while the ever-prolific Jeffrey Wells calls it "not just "take it to the bank" gripping, but levitational -- for someone like myself it's a kind of perfect dream movie. And Variety blogger Anne Thompson quotes several anonymous critics outside the screening who call it "'A folly.' 'A mess.' 'Great." Her take? "Noble failure." Perhaps that goes a long way toward describing that Cannes buying drought.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indiana Jones Wins Us Over No Matter What

By Katey Rich


It's hard, if not downright impossible, to kill a tentpole summer movie with bad reviews. Lord knows we film critics have tried. But still when it comes to some of the biggest names of summer, the studios treat critics like kryptonite, keeping us at bay until the last possible moment and then practically begging us to be nice.

That instinct was prominently on display when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull debuted at Cannes on Sunday. The screening was a sign of bravado on the part of Paramount-- Look! We don't fear the French!-- but an undertone of fear ran through the planning stages. Remembering how The Da Vinci Code was practically booed out of the country two years ago, studio handlers limited press access to the movie's key players and sent George Lucas out weeks ago to lower expectations. Remember that he told Entertainment Weekly "A lot of the critics forget that they didn't like the first three, and so they get off on this one, too � or it's not the Second Coming."

So half the critics went into Sunday's press screenings, both at Cannes and at home, expecting to hate it. And half resolutely hoped that it would be at least as good as The Last Crusade. The result was curious. Though reports from the scene in Cannes said that reaction was mixed, the Rotten Tomatoes score stayed at a positive 80%. But looking at the reviews, there's a definite forced enthusiasm. Our Kevin Lally called it "the most Spielbergian of the series, with all the assets and deficits that implies," while David Poland of Movie City News wrote the cryptic "You can feel the Indy magic at various moments through this film. However�"

See what they did there? You simply can't excorciate Indiana Jones. There are people who stick up for Temple of Doom, even though it has to be one of the most simultaneously racist and sexist movies of the 80s. And for all our jokes, most of us went willingly along with the idea of a 65-year-old action hero, because in some ways, Harrison Ford is simply untouchable. For all our horrific memories of The Phantom Menace, it maintains an overall positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When something is so beloved for so long, you're willing to let it let you down a little, so long as it gives you at least a fraction of what you came for. Even if Jar Jar Binks is part of the package.

Of course Indiana Jones wasn't going to get booed at Cannes. That would be the equivalent of the critics tracking down their 12-year-old selves and kicking them in the shins, insisting that the movie hero they love is just an old guy in a silly hat. Instead the critics have twisted themselves into pretzels finding ways to praise a movie that, were it just any other action-adventure epic (think The Mummy), would probably have barely made an impression on them. Like I said, critics can't kill public enthusiasm for a movie, but in this case, they can't even kill the enthusiasm in themselves. In some part of their core, the rousing march of a theme song inspires the movie love that made them get that job to begin with.

IndyposterThis is all projection-- I haven't seen the movie yet, insisting upon going with my friends on opening night, along with the other fools who will ignore mixed reviews and show up in droves. And oh, will we ever show up. These half-hearted, almost apologetically tepid reviews tell me more than any pan or rave ever could. The message is clear: Resistance is futile. Crystal Skull is your new master now. And you're going to love it.

I sure plan to.

Today's Film News: Jake Gyllenhaal is Persian?

By Katey Rich

Jake_gyllenhaal_2Arterto_2 Last I checked, Jake Gyllenhaal didn't look particularly like Persian royalty, but that won't stop Jerry Bruckheimer. Gyllenhaal has been cast as the lead in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, an adaptation of the successful video game series. Gemma Arterton, who will likely hit it big as a Bond girl this fall, will co-star as a feisty princess (Arterton, for what it's worth, is also not Persian). Bruckheimer, not exactly known for his understatements, said to The Hollywood Reporter that Persia will be "not one of our smaller productions." Hey, we all know how good fiery explosions look in the desert!

Now that Iron Man has made a hit out of what was once considered a lesser superhero, the studios are scrambling to make a mint off another familiar name. Sony was the lucky winner in a bidding war for the rights to Flash Gordon, the comic strip beginning in the 1930s that charts the adventures of a polo player-turned-intergalactic explorer. Variety writes that Breck Eisner, who directed the mega-flop Sahara, will take the reins on this one. Eisner is also at work on a remake of The Creature of the Black Lagoon, apparently trying to tarnish all memories of any pop culture that existed before the Cold War.

HatercovlgoGuillermo del Toro has finally stopped talking about directing projects that he can't possibly manage, now that he's sold his soul to Peter Jackson and the hobbits for the next four years. But that doesn't mean he can't produce! He and Mark Johnson will produce Hater, an adaptation of a graphic novel about people who strike out in random acts of violence. Del Toro promises he'll keep his hobbit feet on the ground, telling Variety, "I'll carry my weight on the creative side, in choosing elements and storyboarding, but it will be up to Mark and the director we choose to execute the day to day. [The Hobbit is a] monumental task, and I don't want to do anything that detracts from my attention to that."

And finally, Spike Lee is doing a strange kind of promotion for his upcoming movie, The Miracle at St. Anna, by standing around at Cannes and insulting some of the festival's most beloved directors. Not only did Lee accuse Joel and Ethan Coen of not respecting life (while insisting that he did, of course), he lambasted Clint Eastwood for not including a single black actor in either Flags of Our Fathers or Letters from Iwo Jima. The Reporter has the full text of his remarks, and while he may have a fair point or two, he's probably not winning friends by rabblerousing for the sake of publicity, and attempting to take down some mighty figures in the process.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today's Film News: Cusack is the Last Man Standing

By Katey Rich

John_cusack_01John Cusack has been in a bit of a small movie rut lately, with the ignored Martian Child, the even-more-ignored Grace is Gone, and the upcoming stink bomb War, Inc. So maybe a big-budget apocalyptic thriller and Roland Emmerich can help shake him out of the doldrums. He'll star along with Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2012, reports Variety, about a cataclysmic event that leaves only a few survivors on the planet. Given the options for repopulating the planet, Cusack and Ejiofor don't seem like bad places to start.

It's been a while since "based on a novel by John Grisham" was a common tagline in Hollywood, but now the king of the legal drama is heading back to the big screen with a very different tome. Playing for Pizza, about an NFL quarterback finding new life in Parma, Italy, has been picked up for adaptation by Phoenix Pictures, according to The Hollywood Reporter. We'll see if the producers can resist throwing in a few tense courtroom scenes, just for old time's sake.

Screenwriter Wang Hui-Ling has told excellent stories set during China's recent (Lust, Caution) and mythical past (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and now it's time to see how one of the most famous directors born in that country can handle one of Wang's stories. John Woo, usually known for his action movie, will direct Wang's script 1949, a big-budget romantic epic set in the last years of the Chinese civil war. Variety says the release is scheduled for December 2009, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China (and probably coming after the hype and controversy over the Chinese Olympics have faded, or at least they're hoping).

And finally, with Indiana Jones coming out on Thursday, it's time for me to get worked up over another movie with epic aspirations. Now that the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's Australia is over at Apple, I think I've found my candidate. Yes, The Changeling and Che are the American fall releases getting all the buzz over at Cannes, but sheer visual thrills in the Australia trailer are enough to keep me excited for months. Who knew we needed a new Gone with the Wind-style epic? Yes, I know that Indy's response has taught us a thing or two about lowering expectations (more on that later), but for now Australia remains at the top of the must-see list.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Today's Film News: George Clooney Sees Goats

By Katey Rich

ObrotherGeorge Clooney has said he's done with his "idiot trilogy" with the Coen Brothers, but he may be playing a fool of a different kind in Men Who Stare at Goats, a script that his Smoke House production company has picked up. The screenplay, written by British journalist and "This American Life" contributor Jon Ronson, is about a unit of the U.S. military that uses paranormal powers. The Variety article doesn't explain exactly what that means, but doesn't that make it more intriguing?

Elizabeth Banks, currently busy playing Laura Bush for Oliver Stone's W, will try her hand at producing for Pitch Perfect, an adaptation of Mickey Rapkin's non-fiction book about competitive college a capella. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Kay Cannon, a writer and occasional performer on "30 Rock," will pen the screenplay. Yet another one of those titles that sets the critics up for the punny pans-- "Pitch Perfect is Tone Deaf" or the like. Playing with fire!

This is getting like a bad joke: Production for David O. Russell's Nailed has once again shut down, with financial troubles continuing to plague the satiric comedy. Below-the-line workers were instructed not to come to set by their union, according to Variety, due to continuing financial troubles with the production company, Capitol Films. Filming is apparently scheduled to resume today, though at this rate, how long can that last before more troubles emerge or the money simply runs out?

SpiesAnd finally, the French are apparently just as willing to watch TV shows about spoiled Beverly Hills teenagers as we are. One of the top cartoons in that country, "Totally Spies!", will get a feature adaptation thanks to Marathon Media and Studio 37. The Hollywood Reporter writes that international sales will be handled at Cannes, so hopefully we in the States will finally get a look at what those snotty French think of one of America's snottiest zip codes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Caspian is our King

By Katey Rich

With Speed Racer considered basically a non-contender at this point, there's only one man who can save families and give them all something to cheer for this weekend: Prince Caspian. The latest installment of the Chronicles of Narnia will surely be the movie to dethrone Iron Man this weekend, and may manage to best its predecessor by debuting in a highly lucrative summertime window. Or, to talk about it in non-movie jargon, it's got swords! And battles! Who won't love it? Plus, Caspian is the only wide release of the weekend, which means most Americans looking for something new will love it, dollar-wise, whether they like it or not.


PRINCE CASPIAN. Opening in 3,800 theatres. Taking place 1300 years after the events of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian finds the titular hero exiled from his own kingdom when his evil uncle Lord Miraz usurps the throne, which is rightfully Caspian's. Endowed with a magical horn, Caspian summons help from the ancient kings and queens of Narnia, who, in our world, are children-- Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) Pevensie. Magically transported back to the kingdom they loved, the Pevensies team up with Caspian to defeat Lord Miraz and restore Narnia, which has changed since Miraz banished all magical creatures to the forest. Eventually returning to help them in their quest is the noble lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). Peter Dinklage appears as the dwarf Trumpkin, and Eddie Izzard voices a gallant mouse named Reepicheep.

Largely unmoved by the first film, I wrote in my review that Caspian is more dramatic than its predecessor, but still lacks a certain verve: "Caspian feels like another trip to Middle Earth, absent the pulsing heartbeat that made Peter Jackson's films so glorious." The Hollywood Reporter calls the film "less wondrous" than Wardrobe, but concludes that "the return to Narnia still casts a transporting spell." Owen Glieberman at Entertainment Weekly writes, "Creatures or no creatures, we've seen it before," and Peter Travers at Rolling Stone chimes in by writing "No sense in complaining that you're watching Lord of the Rings lite. That's the point." And The San Francisco Chronicle's review is especially downbeat, calling it "one of this year's biggest disappointments."

Today's Film News: Psychopaths and Their Women

By Katey Rich

DdlJavier Bardem and Daniel Day-Lewis were kind of co-conspirators in last year's Oscar race, representing the "out-of-this-world psychopaths from amazing neo-Westerns" contingent as they both steamrolled the competition on their way to the gold statue. Now they're interchangeable once again: Day-Lewis is in talks to replace Bardem in Nine, The Weinstein Company's adaptation of the musical based on Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. Variety says the Weinsteins aren't making any promises about the casting, but the idea of Day-Lewis in a romantic role again is too good to pass up, no?

Um, wow. The good news just keeps coming. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Werner Herzog and David Lynch, a team made in heaven and/or hell, will co-direct the murder drama My Son, My Son, based on the true story of a man who acts out a Greek drama in his head and kills his mother with a sword. Now imagine reading that plot description without having those two directors in mind. Sounds awful, right? But if I would trust either of them to tell this story on their own, the combined power of the two is probably enough to change the world.

GoosebumpsThe second-best-selling children's book series, after Harry Potter, will finally be hitting the big screen, and fellow members of my generation can rejoice. There's going to be a Goosebumps movie! Variety reports that Columbia has acquired the rights to the Scholastic series, written by R.L. Stine and consisting of 50 books. The books, for those who didn't pack them in their trunks to take to camp, star children and feature scares from creatures like mummies, ghosts, giant insects and all manner of creepy-crawlies. Variety refers to them as "safe scares," but the idea of a father turning into a plant (as one did in Stay out of the Basement) still gives me, well, goosebumps.

And finally, in today's all-positive edition of film news, Jason Reitman is returning to developing a project he was working on before the whole Juno thing began. Variety reports that he's writing and directing Walter Kirn's novel Up in the Air, about a human resources executive whose only joy in life comes from his attempts to earn his millionth frequent flyer mile. You know, pregnant teens are great and all, but it will be nice to see Reitman return to the milieu that made him famous: corporate bigwigs that nobody likes. Is Aaron Eckhart available?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Do We Really Need Another Fahrenheit 9/11?

By Katey Rich

Fahrenheit_nine_eleven_ver2As I wrote in the film news roundup, Michael Moore is working on a new documentary, returning to politics after his take on health care, Sicko, yielded about 10% of the box-office gross of monster hit Fahrenheit 9/11. Apparently the new documentary will use the phrase Fahrenheit 9/11 1/2 somewhere in the title, a phrase made even more meaningless by the fact that Fahrenheit 9/11, as a title, never signified anything to begin with.

When Moore announced that would be the title of his next documentary back in 2003, both the media hound and Ray Bradbury reader in me were excited. It seemed likely that Moore would tackle the rampart censorship within the Bush administration, from secret documents and Scooter Libby to even the global gag rule on AIDS education worldwide. And that seems like it might be where Moore started out, but the movie that emerged was more of a scattered polemic that indicted the administration for having ties to the Saudi family, therefore benefiting greatly from the war in Iraq that has only gotten worse since Moore tried to talk us out of re-electing the guy who started it. Even at the time, when, unbelievably, we didn't know how much worse it would get, it seemed like there were still bigger fish to fry.

So it worried me when I read this quote in the Reporter's write-up on the new film: "Fahrenheit 9/11 was really about one event -- what led up to it and what the consequences were," Overture's Danny Rosett said. "This is much broader." Really? Fahrenheit 9/11 was nothing if not broad, tackling dead soldiers and dastardly recruiters and the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Bush himself in a melange that was powerful but directionless. The bogeyman will be the same in the sequel, but by focusing on the rest of the world, won't Moore just be spreading himself even thinner?

The French were so thrilled with Moore in 2004 that they awarded him the Palme d'Or, and surely they'll be glad to see themselves in his next movie, represented as another bunch that had no reason to hate us until we stomped all over their goodwill. But with the recent flood of documentaries about the Iraq War and the Bush administration, it once again seems as if Moore is trotting off in one direction-- or many directions-- while there are so many issues left to be tackled. He has the power, the clout and the skill to make a truly devastating piece of work about the Bush administration, but he continues to place his target too far away from where it is truly needed.

Today's Film News: Even Badder Lieutenant

By Katey Rich

Nicolas_cage_1BadlieutenantJust yesterday in his review of the new movie Vice, our Ethan Alter wrote that Abel Ferrara's 1992 Bad Lieutenant was the direct source of " the current wave of flawed flatfoots," a.k.a. corrupt cops. Now, as so often happens in Hollywood, things have come full circle, and Werner Herzog is somehow involved. Herzog will direct Nicolas Cage in a remake of Bad Lieutenant, about a cop heavily involved in drugs, gambling and illicit sex. According to Variety, the screenwriter will be Billy Finkelstein, who has written for TV's "Law & Order" and "NYPD Blue."

Oliver Stone is the anti-Bush rabblerouser of the moment as he works on W, but Michael Moore won't be waiting in the wings for long. The Hollywood Reporter writes that he's teaming up with Overture Films and Paramount Vantage to make a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, his documentary that grossed over $220 million worldwide in 2004. The doc will aim to examine America's role in the world and how it has changed since Bush took office in 2000. Producers will be talking it up at Cannes, but the movie won't be released until mid-2009, well after the current election madness has ended and George W. Bush has left office. I'm not sure why Moore wants to tangle with a newly retired President with a lot of time suddenly on his hands, but hey, that's his choice.

Nocountryforoldmen4Hemingway"Islands in the Stream": not just a Dolly Parton song! It's the last novel ever written by Ernest Hemingway, and soon it will be a movie written, directed, produced and acted by Tommy Lee Jones. He'll play Thomas Hudson, a reclusive painter who, in a familiar turn for Hemingway fans, battles personal demons after moving to a tropical location following service in the Navy. John Goodman and Morgan Freeman may also join in, according to The Reporter. Jones co-wrote the script with Bill Witliff, who spent some time on the high seas writing the George Clooney movie The Perfect Storm.

And finally, even Disney may be getting into the political game. The studio and Jerry Bruckheimer have acquired the rights to The Increment, an international spy thriller that involves an invasion of Iran. Variety reports that the screenwriter is no stranger to hot topics: He wrote the novel that became Body of Lies, the Jordan-set political drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio that comes out this fall.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today's Film News: Fraggles Rock Again

By Katey Rich

FraggleWith Jason Segel working on a new Muppets movie, another set of Jim Henson's creatures are heading to theatres as well. The Weinstein Company will distribute a movie based on "Fraggle Rock," the 1980s TV show that featured a mix of furry puppets and humans. Variety reports that Cory Edwards, who directed TWC's largely hated Hoodwinked!, will write and direct this one. Not to pick sides among Jim Henson's babies, but early instinct puts Jason Segel ahead on this one. Can anyone even remember a coherent plot from "Fraggle Rock"? At least Kermit and Piggy have the will-they-won't-they romance to play off.

One of the most iconic screen couples of the early-90s, for me at least, were Steve Martin and Diane Keaton in the Father of the Bride movies. Now my eight-year-old self can rejoice, since the two will reteam at Paramount for From Zero to Sixty, a comedy pitch written by Martin. According to Variety, Robert Simonds, who produced Martin's The Pink Panther and the upcoming sequel, will produce the film.

26305indy_billboard341x182The Hollywood Reporter has a short little feature about the massive outdoor advertising campaign going on for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which even my dad has pointed out I'm a bit too excited about. Apparently massive billboards are par for the course in Los Angeles, but Steven Spielberg and the Paramount marketing team have pioneered using two adjacent billboards to spell out a single message. The article doesn't specify exactly what that message is, but my guess is it's just one word: "INDY." I mean, what more needs to be said?

For a while it looked like David O. Russell's Nailed would be facing even greater troubles than it did when James Caan stormed off the set a few weeks ago. On Friday the Screen Actors Guild demanded that production shut down, but yesterday the producers worked out their financial woes and got things rolling again. But now Variety is reporting that the production company, ThinkFilm, is still facing plenty of financial woes, and may be heading into Cannes this week without any money to put forward for new titles.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Today's Film News: Liam Neeson for President!

By Katey Rich

Liam_neeson_300Lincoln_abraham_photographthumb425xLiam Neeson is a patient man, and it seems to have paid off. Steven Spielberg's biopic about Abraham Lincoln is finally getting off the ground, with Neeson set to portray the 16th President. Spielberg will film his installment of The Adventures of Tin Tin this fall (Peter Jackson will direct the next one) and get started on Lincoln in the spring, reports Variety. Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay for the long-awaited project, based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. Oscar forecasters are currently frantically reshuffling their predictions for the 2010 awards.

The arms race of tax incentives is finally hitting the home of the movies, California; Governor Schwarzenegger is urging the state legislature to establish heftier tax breaks for movie productions, now that New York State has beefed up its offerings to 35% of total costs. Variety reports that a collection of California politicians have pushed for tax incentives since 1998, all while other states like New York, Connecticut and New Mexico have increased incentives and drawn productions away from the West Coast. The issue recently came back to the forefront when the production for TV's "Ugly Betty" decided to move to New York, where the show is set.

Well, romantic comedies have surely been based on flimsier premises: DreamWorks has picked up a spec script titled Shared Fare, about a couple who meet when they split cab fare. Apparently it's based on a true story that happened to Langley Perer, an executive with Benderspink, the company in charge of production. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Brian Robbins (Norbit) is considering directing.

And finally, the only way to one-up a romantic comedy based on a flimsy premise is to report on another comedy based on the most absurd and complex premise ever dreamed up. Hot Tub Time Machine will be pretty much exactly what it sounds like, about four reformed womanizers who travel back to their glory days thanks to a time-jumping hot tub. The Hollywood Reporter has this choice quote from MGM executive Cale Boyter, in case the whole thing didn't seem silly enough: "We're always looking for ways to stand out from the rest of the pack in today's crowded marketplace, and what better way than to combine hot tub debauchery and the complications of time travel." It's a time-honored combination that truly can't lose.

Weekend Roundup: Iron Man Reigns Again

By Katey Rich


When faced with the bright lights of Vegas or the bright colors of a computer-generated racetrack, America's moviegoers pretty much chose neither. Iron Man held its position as the box-office champion, declining just under 50% from last weekend's take to bring in $50.5 million. Considering that even Spider-Man 3 saw a larger drop in audience last year, that's very good news indeed. And there was pretty good news for What Happens in Vegas as well, which performed slightly over expectations to bring in just over $20 million.

The true bad news was for the Wachowskis and Warner Bros., who saw their groundbreaking Speed Racer debut to only $20 million, barely beating out Vegas for second place. Playing on 400 more screens than Vegas, Speed Racer most definitely would have been third had the two been on an even playing field-- Vegas scored a better per-theatre average. Buzz on Speed Racer had been pretty miserable, but pretty much no one expected it to fare this poorly. But hey, the good news is it will be pretty difficult for any other movie to qualify as summertime's biggest flop, so the people behind The Incredible Hulk can rest easy.

The rest of the top ten was populated by familiar holdovers, some of which are hanging on better than others. Made of Honor held on to a respectable amount of its opening-weekend audience despite competition from a new romantic comedy; it came in at #4 with $7.6 million. Right behind it, Baby Mama wrapped up the chick flick triumvirate, bringing in $5.7 million. And, if we're being generous with the term, yet another chick flick came in at #6-- Forgetting Sarah Marshall made $3.7 million.

Continuing to slip off the radar far faster than it ought to, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay landed at #7 with $3.1 million. Right behind it, and quickly shedding screens, is The Forbidden Kingdom, with $1.9 million for the weekend.  Also on its way out is Nim's Island, which stops one last time in the top ten at #9, with $1.3 million. Goodbye, Nim-- we won't have another movie targeted at young girls until Abigail Breslin returns in July with Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. We'll miss you.

Wrapping up the top ten, Redbelt made the biggest leap of the weekend, going from #41 to #10 after adding over 1300 screens. It made $1.1 million, but at a measly $800 per-theatre average. Maybe David Mamet and martial arts don't go together so well after all.

In the top 20, a handful of indies are boosting their profiles by adding screens and building on good buzz. Foremost among them is The Visitor, which landed at #13 after adding more screens, and has brought its tally to $2.5 million. Showing up in the top 20 for the first time is the Helen Hunt directed Then She Found Me, which is just about to crack the $1 million mark. And Young @ Heart continues to quietly succeed, coming in at #17 this time around. Check out the full list after the jump, thanks to Box Office Mojo.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
11Iron ManPar.$50,500,000-48.8%4,111+6$12,284$177,134,000$1402
2NSpeed RacerWB$20,210,000-3,606-$5,604$20,210,000-1
3NWhat Happens in VegasFox$20,000,000-3,215+2,915$6,220$20,000,000$351
42Made of HonorSony$7,600,000-48.5%2,734+5$2,779$26,275,000$402
53Baby MamaUni.$5,766,000-42.7%2,627+79$2,194$40,377,000$303
65Forgetting Sarah MarshallUni.$3,778,000-37.7%2,376-496$1,590$50,772,000$304
74Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo BayNL$3,155,000-48.4%2,264-281$1,393$30,716,000$123
86The Forbidden KingdomLGF$1,900,000-54.6%1,724-1,236$1,102$48,261,000-4
97Nim's IslandFox$1,325,000-50.5%1,601-877$827$44,257,000$376
118Prom Night (2008)SGem$1,050,000-56.3%1,465-969$716$42,822,000$205
Click here to find out more!
1316The VisitorOver.$764,000+25.9%217+87$3,520$2,510,000-5
1411Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!Fox$575,000-57.0%770-693$746$150,669,000$859
1521Then She Found MeThink$489,000+112.2%153+81$3,196$912,000-3
161088 MinutesSony$485,000-68.6%625-1,140$776$16,411,000-4
1815Expelled: No Intelligence AllowedRM$302,000-55.5%402-254$751$7,208,000-4