Monday, June 30, 2008

Today's Film News: 301?

By Katey Rich

300postercliffThere's one thing you can count on when a movie makes over $200 million on a budget of peanuts: There will be a sequel. At least the planned 300 follow-up seems unique, in that it's taken over a year for the production company to admit they're doing it; maybe that means they're not just in it for a quick buck? Variety reports that Frank Miller is writing a graphic novel that will be a followup to his original 300, though it may wind up a prequel or spinoff or some other sort of continuation. Zack Snyder has said he will again direct if he likes what Miller comes up with. And, as is usually the case, if the price is right.

When Ellen Page announced a whole flurry of projects following her breakout role in Juno, I was concerned that my favorite of the bunch, Whip It!, would get shoved aside in favor of something bigger. But happily, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is scheduled to get off the ground later this summer, with Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis all joining the cast, according to The Hollywood Reporter. As befits a movie set in the world of roller derby, character names include Malice in Wonderland and Dinah Might. How can you not be excited about this??

Fox Killing people is all the rage these days, didn't you hear? Matthew Fox will be giving James McAvoy and his Wanted company a run for their money when he stars in Billy Smoke, a--you guessed it--comic book adaptation about a hit man who has a change of heart and decides to rid the world of all assassins. Variety reports that the movie is based on a comic book series that comes out next year.

And finally, the first trailer for Quantum of Solace is up on Moviefone! But we've got it embedded right here. If you thought James Bond was fearsome when he was just doing his royal duty, just wait until you see him out for revenge!

Weekend Roundup: Hits Wanted, and Found!

By Katey Rich

Eve_2 Wanted2_2

Who knew there was room in America's heart for both a loveable, trash-compacting robot and a super-assassin who uses rats as tiny suicide bombers? Both WALL-E and Wanted made sensational debuts over the weekend, with WALL-E in first place with $62 million and Wanted not far behind with $51 million. Both movies outdid expectations, with Wanted especially impressive as the biggest-debuting R-rated movie to come out in June. That may not sound like much, but in the season for family-friendly blockbusters, finding success is a feat for any R-rated movie.

Last weekend's champion Get Smart fared pretty well in its second frame, dropping only 48% to come in at #3 with $20 million. It was a lot better off than fellow sophomore The Love Guru which dipped a steep 60% for $5.4 million and sixth place. That brings the comedy's total gross to $25 million, less than half of its budget. What's a kooky Mike Myers way of saying "ouch"?

Perhaps the biggest standout among the holdovers is Kung Fu Panda, which held on despite competition from WALL-E and brought in $11 million, good for fourth place. It even vaulted past The Incredible Hulk, which still did fine with $9 million in fifth place. With June about to go on record as one of the best box-office periods in months, it's strong holdovers like these that continue to bring in the staggering amounts of dough.

Down closer to the bottom of the top 10, Indiana Jones just barely missed beating the $300 million mark over the weekend, but snagged $5 million and seventh place for its trouble. The Happening, on the other hand, isn't hanging on nearly as well; it dropped another 63% in its third frame for a weekend gross of $3.8 million, good for eighth place. And finally, Sex and the City made $3.7 million at #9, with You Don't Mess with the Zohan finishing things up with $3.2 million. It feels surprisingly sad not to include Iron Man in this section, but it just missed the cut at #11.

After the jump, we once again have a truncated top 20 to reckon with, courtesy of Box Office Mojo. Mongol is the real standout of the bunch-- it has already grossed $2.3 million in limited release, and added 114 theatres over the weekend. Amid the explosions of the summer, an old-fashioned epic is finding some traction with the audiences who, for whatever reason, aren't seeing WALL-E.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Today's Film News: Thinkfilm to the Dark Side

By Katey Rich

TaxiDocumentary filmmaker Alex Gibney usually focuses his rabblerousing on targets like Guantanamo Bay (Taxi to the Dark Side) and corrupt corporations (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), but now he's focusing his anger on ThinkFilm, the company that distributed the Oscar-winning Taxi. The New York Times is reporting that Gibney filed for arbitration against ThinkFilm last Thursday, claiming that the company did not have enough money to properly market his film, particularly after it won the Oscar. "The fact that they were fiscally unable to capitalize on the Oscar infuriated me for two reasons: They had been in financial difficulty for some time and hadn't disclosed it to us; and we won the Oscar, and they still hadn't disclosed it to us," Gibney said in the Times. Anne Thompson has a roundup of this case that also links it to the production troubles for Nailed and other rumblings in the indie marketplace. Both articles are worth a look.

It's surprising that it's taken this long since the success of 300 for two major studios to jump on another sword-and-sandals epic. Now Variety is reporting that both Relativity Media and Warner Bros. have gladiator movies in development, with Warner having the slight advantage with its Clash of the Titans remake, to be directed by Hulk helmer Louis Leterrier. Relativity, for its part, will be making War of the Gods with The Fall director Tarsem, about a battle of humans and gods vs. demons and titans. Honestly, why should these two movies competing against each other be a problem? They both sound pretty damn impressive.

PshAs much as we like him up on screen, Philip Seymour Hoffman seems to be aiming to step behind the camera for a bit. His Cooper Town Productions has signed a two-year deal with Overture Films, with the first project, Unconditional, being an adaptation of a play first produced by his LAByrinth Theater Company. The Reporter says Hoffman will not act in most of the projects. What a waste!

And finally, the Toronto Film Festival has unveiled part of its slate-- none of the big Hollywood debuts, but many of the Cannes hits like Palme d'Or winner The Class. Let the awards season buzz begin... is it really that time again? Check out the full list in Variety.

WALL-E Finds Sorely Needed Magic in Humanity

By Katey Rich


How many neat things are there about being human? Let Pixar count the ways. We have the ability to create things like Rubik's cubes, refrigerators, sporks and bras. We can sing and dance and wave our hats like the specimens on display in Hello, Dolly! We can love, understand and even talk to a creature like WALL-E, a tiny robot with a box for a torso and binoculars for eyes. And, perhaps most importantly, there are a few geniuses among us who can tie ideas like this into a stunning, emotional and life-affirming movie like WALL-E.

There's no real need for me to join the chorus of praise for WALL-E, which opens today in the kind of hail of accolades that we last saw... well, when Pixar's last film, Ratatouille, came out a year ago. It's thrilling that Pixar can continue such a winning streak, melting the most cynical critic's heart and opening our eyes all over again to what animation can be. Just reading the endless good reviews puts the same warm feeling in my heart that I had watching WALL-E and his lady love, EVE, dance a strange ballet among the stars.

After seeing Wanted on Monday, a movie that revels in hating most everything about everyday people, I desperately needed WALL-E to reaffirm my faith that there is something good about being human, something worth saving even when the population as a whole doesn't give you a whole lot to appreciate. And, sure enough, like the people in the film who interact with the beeping robot, the dark scales were lifted from my eyes thanks to WALL-E. It's hard to decide what is the most wondrous: a nation of critics throwing up their hands in delight over a movie meant for children, a movie meant for children that makes adults tear up in joy, or the very people who made this movie to begin with.

Wanted has its own pleasures, in the good old American tradition of watching people kill others as a kind of catharsis for whatever is plaguing our lives. But WALL-E, which isn't afraid to look at the troublesome aspects of our current way of life, finds a way for you to forgive others rather than kill them, in a manner that's never overly sentimental or forced. When one character marvels over all the wonders that Earth can hold-- square dances! the ocean!-- no one can resist his enthusiasm. Going to see WALL-E may involve sitting in a dark room, but it's all about opening your eyes to what's outside it. At the end you won't need WALL-E's binocular eyes to see the beauty he found in us.

Box Office Outlook: Who Wants WALL-E?

By Katey Rich

Even though I have some reservations about Wanted, which I'll write about later today, there's no doubt that this is one of the best weekends for movies so far this summer. First there's Wanted, a gory, shoot-em-up action thriller that is wowing critics with its visual style and exquisite use of the exquisite Angelina Jolie (not to mention my personal heartthrob James McAvoy). And then there are the geniuses at Pixar, once again sweeping up their required accolades with Wall-E, a sci-fi comedy-drama that's melting hearts as well as evoking cries of "Best Animated Feature Oscar!" Well, it's Pixar-- what else do you expect?


WALL-E. Opening in 3,992 theatres. A robot left on earth 700 years after humanity abandoned it, WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter--Earth Class) goes about his business in a desolate city, stacking garbage and collecting the niftiest pieces for himself. But when EVE (Extra-Terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) arrives in WALL-E's life, he's so smitten that he follows her back to the spaceship where she lives with what's left of humanity. The adventure proceeds from there, and if the critics aren't spoiling it, I won't either. Andrew Stanton, who wrote and directed Finding Nemo, performed the same duties on this one.

*Sigh*. There's virtually no one who hasn't fallen in love with WALL-E-- Rotten Tomatoes has only scored two negative reviews among the 90 counted so far. Our Kevin Lally, for starters, writes, "The studio takes big risks in WALL-E that pay handsome dividends." Among those risks are the first half-hour, which takes place entirely without dialogue; NPR's Bob Mondello loves that shout-out to silent-era filmmaking, writing, "I'm just as gratified by their look back 70 years to silent movies as I am by their look forward 700 years to a silent planet." Joe Morgenstern at the Wall Street Journal realizes he's risking hyperbole when he calls WALL-E a masterpiece, but he can't help describing it as "a love letter to the possibilities of the movie medium, and a dazzling demonstration of how computers can create a photorealistic world that leaves literal reality in the dust." Are you tired of reading nothing but raves for this movie? I'm not! "Somehow their expressions achieve an otherworldly eloquence," writes A.O. Scott at The New York Times of our lovers WALL-E and EVE. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times calls it "daring and traditional, groundbreaking and familiar, apocalyptic and sentimental." Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly calls it "puckishly inventive, altogether marvelous." And, OK, I'll stop with just one more, from Roger Ebert: "It involves ideas, not simply mindless scenarios involving characters karate-kicking each other into high-angle shots. It involves a little work on the part of the audience, and a little thought, and might be especially stimulating to younger viewers. This story told in a different style and with a realistic look could have been a great science-fiction film. For that matter, maybe it is."

WantedWANTED. Opening in 3,175 theatres. Based on an ultraviolent series of graphic novels, Wanted stars James McAvoy as Wesley, a cubicle drone whose life is transformed when he finds out his father was a member of a secret society of assassins, and he's their newest recruit. Trained by Fox (Angelina Jolie) and society leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman), Wesley prepares for his ultimate mission-- killing the renegade (Thomas Kretschmann) who murdered his father. But, as is usually the case with movies involving assassins and weaponry, it's not quite that easy.

Most critics have fallen for Wanted's flashy visuals and high-octane speed, but our Frank Lovece is not among them. He wasn't even excited by the visuals: "[Wanted is] a generic Hollywood product that looks and feels like a half-dozen other films that excited neither critics nor audiences." Newsday says the movie "feels like a rotisserie team of other supercool movies"-- but that's meant as a compliment. "Man, does it rock," The Detroit News says succinctly, and The Washington Post calls it "revenge of the nerds at its nastiest and most vulgar"-- again, that's meant as a compliment... I think. David Ansen at Newsweek saves most of his criticism for Jolie-- "Somebody needs to give this beautiful assassin a Fatburger"-- but also titles his review "America's Least Wanted." Ouch. And the always-cranky Anthony Lane at The New Yorker criticizes the film's over-the-top style with a non-sequitur pondering how director Timur Bekmambetov makes his coffee: "My best guess, based on the evidence of the film, is that he tosses a handful of beans toward the ceiling, shoots them individually into a fine powder, leaves it hanging in the air, runs downstairs, breaks open a fire hydrant with his head, carefully directs the jet of water through the window of his apartment, sets fire to the building, then stands patiently with his mug amid the blazing ruins to collect the precious percolated drops. Don't even think about a cappuccino."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today's Film News: Sarah Jessica, Back in the City

By Katey Rich

SjpIf Sarah Jessica Parker is trying to move away from her defining role as Carrie on "Sex and the City," she sure isn't doing a good job of it. The Reporter says her next role will be in a movie called The Ivy Chronicles, about a woman struggling with being single while part of New York City's elite society. No, nothing at all like Carrie Bradshaw. The Warner Bros. project is based on Karen Quinn's novel. Yet another nail in the coffin for the New York that doesn't resemble the glitzy world of these types of movies.

Perhaps inspired by his most acclaimed recent role, Nicolas Cage will be mimicking his Adaptation character and playing a screenwriter once again. He'll star in Roman Polanski's next project, The Ghost, about a political ghostwriter hired to write the British prime minister's (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs after the original writer turns up dead. Variety reports that Tilda Swinton will play the prime minister's wife, which makes the erstwhile James Bond and the recent Oscar winner one of the stranger onscreen pairings I've heard of recently. But that can be a good thing!

EliteMore bad news for foreign films hoping to get a leg up in America. The acclaimed Brazilian drama Elite Squad was picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company after it won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, but now it will only see distribution through IFC's simultaneous theatrical and on-demand release program. According to The Reporter, that's a disappointment for a film that could have benefited from the Weinsteins' legendary skill at promoting smaller films. The Weinsteins retain the rights to the film, and IFC Entertainment wouldn't disclose the terms of the deal.

Every few years a movie about dogs doing work in snowy climates-- Iron Will, Eight Below, and don't make me bring up Snow Dogs-- shows up in theatres, so I guess it's time for another. Variety reports that Chronicles of Narnia producer Mark Johnson will help Walden Media adapt the nonfiction book The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, about a 1925 diphtheria outbreak in Alaska. Cuba Gooding, Jr. does not appear to be involved, so they're already off to a good start.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hancock Still Can't Break Will Smith's Winning Streak

By Katey Rich


My roommate decided without my knowledge that I have a crush on Will Smith. I realize I'm late to the party on this one-- he's been a heartthrob since I was in elementary school-- but I've recently become enamored with his ability to do, well, anything, and make it a success. And, thank goodness for Hollywood's sake, he hasn't tried to branch out as an entrepeneur and bring his golden touch to fashion or anything else. He's a bona fide, honest-to-God movie star, capable of creating lines around the block and instant franchises just by signing his name on the dotted line.

I'm realizing now how many other people share that same trust in Will Smith, reading Variety and The Hollywood Reporter's distinct pans of Smith's latest July 4 outing, Hancock. The Reporter calls it "spectacular but muddled," and Variety settles on "misguided." But even within its bad review, The Reporter stops to credit Smith's "effortless charisma in a vehicle that's only occasionally worthy of his superhuman skills. Who else on the planet could star in a summer tentpole in which his face dominates the entire poster and still not be blamed one iota for its failure?

In the responses to Hollywood Elsewhere's item about Variety's pan, a commenter pointed out that Wild Wild West, widely considered a gigantic flop even before it opened, debuted with $49 million in 2001, which amounts to even more in today's dollars. Is Will Smith really such a huge star that we will pay money to spend time with him, regardless of how bad the surrounding story is? For the time being, I guess that answer is yes. You'll have a hard time finding anyone who will predict that Hancock will flop, and even if it "underperforms" with something under $200 million, it will by no means be a chink in Will Smith's armor. The former Fresh Prince seems capable of carrying on as the invincible King of Blockbusters, and I for one will be happy to carry on with the boss. So long as he stays away from alcoholic superheroes in the future.

Today's Film News: Chris Carter Believes in Secrecy

By Katey Rich

XfilsBefore that youngun J.J. Abrams was unraveling mysteries and infuriating viewers on TV shows like "Lost" and "Alias," Chris Carter was doing essentially the same thing with "The X-Files." Now, with another X-Files movie coming out this summer, Carter seems to be taking a page from Abrams' book for his next feature-- hiring unknowns and keeping the plot super-secret. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Fencewalker will star "The Tudors" actress Natalie Dormer and rapper Xzibit, among others. Carter claims that the story will have no supernatural elements, but if he really wants to go J.J. Abrams-style, he'll at least hint that mysterious giant lizard will play a role somewhere.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Production for David O. Russell's Nailed has shut down. For the fourth time. Variety writes that the labor stoppage, once again due to the crew not being paid, is probably related to the recent closing of production company ThinkFilm's Toronto office. Both events are likely signs that all is not well for parent company Capitol Films, and the labor issues on Nailed may just be the tip of the iceberg.

BeckerThe ongoing career of Walt Becker continues to baffle me. The man made one hit movie-- Wild Hogs, in case you've forgotten that gem-- and now has more projects in development than anyone truly deserves. At least for the upcoming Still You at MGM, he'll serve only as producer for the April Blair script about an ex-boyfriend who threatens to ruin a family vacation. Variety says Becker will produce alongside Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote 27 Dresses and The Devil Wears Prada.

And finally, it's time for the battle royale between Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson that you've always wanted to see! Well, kinda. Nicholson, Ben Stiller, Martin Sheen and other actors have signed a petition similar to the one Hanks put his name to over the weekend, except the Nicholson camp is encouraging SAG members not to ratify the labor contract that AFTRA accepted earlier this year. The Reporter has all the messy details, which I'm still hoping I won't need to learn about because a strike will never happen. Wishful thinking!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Film History Washes Up on Universal Lot

By Katey Rich

During the very, very brief period of my college career in which I learned to make movies, I always found something talismanic about the strips of film that hung from pegs in the editing room, collecting in curls at the bottom of trim bins and getting swept, frame by frame, out of the way. They weren't movies, of course, and in my amateur filmmaking class most of the trimmed bits were blurry or discolored shots. But there's something to seeing an image of something recognizable on such a tiny piece of plastic, and making the connection between that insignificant scrap and the glorious movie images on the big screen.

PrimerOf course, we're moving away from that even as I write, as my colleagues at the Cinema Expo in Amsterdam talk about the new wave of digital projection in Europe. But Primer Magazine, pointed out to me by way of Anne Thompson, has a little snippet of film history that washed up, so to speak, in the wake of the Universal Studios fire. You can see at left the single frame from a print of Back to the Future, charred but very recognizable. How crazy is it that such a tiny little piece can show up intact, in a neighborhood near the location of the fire? And isn't it even crazier to think that Marty McFly and Doc Brown can burn?

Today's Film News: Boogie on the Internet

By Katey Rich

GrahamOxymoron Entertainment, a production company that started up just last year, sure is aiming to make a name for itself, and quick. Variety reports that the studio's first production will be Middle Men, a comedy documenting the beginning of the Internet porn business. George Gallo (My Mom's New Boyfriend) will direct and write the movie with Andy Weiss. Can it do for Internet porn what Boogie Nights did for regular porn, even without Heather Graham on roller skates?

Former tween superstar Hillary Duff-- the original Miley Cyrus, if you must know-- is continuing her attempts to bolster her indie cred. She's taken on a role in Stay Cool, not a sequel to Be Cool but a comedy from Mark and Michael Polish about a successful author who returns to his hometown to deliver a high school commencement address. Mark Polish will play the author, The Reporter writes, with Winona Ryder as an unrequited crush and Duff as a sultry high school student named... Shasta. Perhaps the casting isn't a coup after all, but punishment for her participation in War, Inc.?

PottsIt was inevitable that the success of "American Idol" would eventually find its way into the movies, but who would have guessed it would be the original British version to hit screens first? According to The Reporter, "Idol" judge Simon Cowell will produce One Chance, a biopic of "Britain's Got Talent" winner Paul Potts, an opera singer who had nearly given up on a singing career when he auditioned for the show in 2007. Justin Zackham, who wrote The Bucket List, has signed on as screenwriter. Yes, the schmaltz will be unimaginable.

And finally, an old joke seems to be on its way to becoming a mystery novel first, and then a mystery movie. Just read this line from the Variety piece about author Larry Beinhart's Salvation Boulevard: "The detective is a born-again Christian, the dead man an atheist, the accused killer an Islamic foreign student and the D.A. is Jewish." Mandalay will produce the film, but no word on whether or not the characters will all walk into a bar at some point.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Weekend Roundup: Smarter Than a Guru

By Katey Rich


While Get Smart wasn't exactly as intellectual as the title might suggest, it was definitely the smart option for people interested in comedy over the weekend. The Steve Carell vehicle made a healthy $39 million, easily trouncing fellow freshman comedy The Love Guru, which managed only fourth place with its $14 million gross. In the battle between Carell, who plays a man with an inflated ego on television now, and Mike Myers, who played several men with inflated egos on "Saturday Night Live" in the 90s, it was the present that beat out the past.

Coming in behind Get Smart was the stalwart family comedy Kung Fu Panda, which narrowly edged out the newer The Incredible Hulk to snag second place and $21.7 million. Hulk dropped a sharp 61% in its second weekend to bring in $21.5 million, but it fared far better than its fellow second-week release. M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which debuted strongly last week despite terrible reviews, fell 67% to come in at #5, behind Love Guru with just $10 million. In a summer movie season boasting so much quality competition, it'll be hard for The Happening to hang on much longer.

In another switcheroo, Indiana Jones came in ahead of the newer comedy You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Indy and crew made $8.4 million at #6, while Adam Sandler's movie likely suffered thanks to new comedy competition, and brought in $7.2 million at #7. Zohan would be the most successful comedy of the summer so far if not for juggernaut Sex and the City, which is really more of a drama anyway. The female-centric movie made $6.4 million over the weekend, good enough for eighth place.

Rounding things out were Iron Man, finally petering out with $4 million, and The Strangers, ending its surprisingly long run in the top 10 with $1.9 million. Both will probably be absent next week, as two strong contenders head to multiplexes this weekend. But we'll get to those later.

In the full top 17 (no top 20 once again over at Box Office Mojo), the real story is Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which opened in limited release as part of a serious marketing campaign that I wrote about two weeks ago. It scored a humongous $44,600 per-theatre average, playing only in cities that featured American Girl stores, many of which featured special promotions and events surrounding the movie. Kit goes into wide release on July 4 weekend, and may run into trouble with larger audiences as it goes up against Wall-E (damn! I said I would talk about that later.) But regardless, Kit has proven for the second time this summer, in however small a way, that females really do go to the movies.

Check out the full top 17 after the jump.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NGet SmartWB$39,155,000-3,911-$10,011$39,155,000$801
22Kung Fu PandaP/DW$21,700,000-35.4%4,053-83$5,354$155,596,000$1303
31The Incredible HulkUni.$21,557,000-61.1%3,508+3$6,145$96,476,000$1502
4NThe Love GuruPar.$14,000,000-3,012-$4,648$14,000,000$621
53The HappeningFox$10,000,000-67.2%2,986-$3,348$50,267,000$602
65Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullPar.$8,414,000-42.9%3,171-633$2,653$290,835,000$1855
74You Don't Mess with the ZohanSony$7,200,000-56.0%3,278-188$2,196$84,055,000$903
86Sex and the CityNL$6,465,000-34.0%2,442-713$2,647$132,385,000$654
97Iron ManPar.$4,002,000-28.8%1,912-491$2,093$304,788,000$1408
108The StrangersRog.$1,949,000-51.6%1,578-832$1,235$49,586,000$94
119The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince CaspianBV$1,708,000-46.0%1,462-846$1,168$135,467,000$2006
1210What Happens in VegasFox$770,000-53.8%708-714$1,087$77,522,000$357
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1412The VisitorOver.$381,000-9.5%224-30$1,700$7,190,000-11
1511Baby MamaUni.$243,000-45.0%302-151$804$59,287,000$309
16NKit Kittredge: An American GirlPicH$223,000-5-$44,600$223,000-1
1714Forgetting Sarah MarshallUni.$191,000-33.6%253-53$754$62,472,000$3010

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Today's Film News: We Have to go Back... to the Future!

By Katey Rich

MallettIt's been a long while since Doc Brown invented the flux capacitor, so I guess Spike Lee has decided it's time to give another inventor a shot at a time machine. He's acquired the rights to the memoir Time Traveler by Ronald Mallett, one of the first African-Americans in the nation to acquire a Ph.D in theoretical physics and probably the only one who believes he can build a real time machine. Variety quotes Lee as calling the book a "fantastic story on many levels (and) also a father and son saga of loss and love." No word on whether a veiled jab at Clint Eastwood was thrown in there as well.

I knew I should have read that intriguing article in last week's New York Times titled "Mystery on Fifth Avenue." Now the story, about a wealthy family who build a scavenger hunt into their very, very fancy apartment, will become a movie, at the hands of J.J. Abrams and his  Bad Robot productions. The Hollywood Reporter writes that Paramount, which also handled Abrams-produced Cloverfield and the upcoming Star Trek, will distribute this one as well.

BrunoSacha Baron Cohen isn't done bringing his unique kind of torment to the American people. Bruno, another mock-documentary based on one of his characters from "Da Ali G Show," will be released on May 15, 2009, in the heat of the summer movie season. Variety notes that the movie will open against Angels & Demons, which means those offended by both fuzzy Catholic theology and gay German journalists will simply have to stay home that weekend.

And finally, "Sopranos" fans looking for a fix will find one-- sorta-- in Son of Mourning, which will now star Lorraine Bracco and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, both alums of the HBO drama. The Reporter describes the film, which also stars Joseph Cross, as a "satirical indie comedy," about a disaffected ad writer who returns home following the divorce of his parents.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Today's Film News: Summer Movies Riding High

By Katey Rich

IndyIronman A pleasant surprise following a weekend in which two potential flops managed to outperform expectations: This summer's box office is actually up over 2007's, despite last summer's one-two-three punch of major threequels. The Reporter notes in their roundup that few films have seriously underperformed, and four particular standouts-- Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Panda and Sex and the City-- have turned in stellar performances. The success has caught even some of the optimistic studio execs off-guard: ""It's staggering," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said in the Reporter. "I didn't think it was going to be like this." And that's coming from one of the guys who hasn't even had a big-name hit. At Paramount they've probably installed trampolines to amplify their leaps of joy.

Less good news is coming from the SAG and AFTRA negotiations, where it's looking increasingly likely that actors will be walking off the set at the end of this month. Variety mentions what's been discussed elsewhere, namely that big productions like Transformers II and Angels & Demons have built-in hiatuses to cover a strike. Where it will really hurt is TV productions and smaller features that can't afford to revolve around a potential strike. The basic tone of the Variety piece is, "Uh-oh. It's happening again!"

Kevinspacey3HBO's nightly drama "In Treatment" wasn't much of a hit when it debuted in the spring, but that's not keeping Kevin Spacey and many others from giving the concept a shot on the big screen. In Shrink, Spacey will play a psychiatrist to the stars, treating a variety of fictional Hollywood figures played by the likes of Robin Williams, Keke Palmer, Gore Vidal, Dallas Roberts and more. Jonas Pate (TV's "Friday Night Lights") is directing, Variety reports.

And finally, New Line is going ahead with its first big-budget project since it was folded back into its parent studio, Warner Bros. Len Wiseman will be directing Gears of War, according to the Reporter, a  video game adaptation (of course!) about a battle between humans and otherworldly creatures. Talking to the Reporter, a designer for the movie is reassuringly optimistic: "Disney made a great movie out of a theme park ride, and somebody is sooner or later going to make a great one out of a video game," Bleszinski said. "Having someone like Len really helps the odds. I think we're going to create something special here."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Roman Polanski is Still a Hot Topic

By Katey Rich


Even with Werner Herzog on the scene with a new movie, the documentary making the most waves at the moment isn't even screening in theatres yet. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Marina Zenovich's documentary about the director's 1978 trial, is airing on HBO in advance of a limited July run in theatres. The documentary, well-reviewed and a hit on the pay cable channel, has run into controversy not only because of its topic, but its claims about the Polanski trial.

Anne Thompson sums up the complicated story in her Variety blog. Zenovich's documentary originally ended with a card that claimed that in 1997, the new Los Angeles judge assigned to the case insisted upon having television coverage were Polanski to return to California and stand trial. (Polanski fled America in 1978, and thanks to his French citizenship, has been allowed to stay in the country as a fugitive from United States law.) The L.A. judge argued that he demanded no such thing, while Polanski's lawyer at the time and a district attorney have co-signed a statement insisting that TV coverage was the sticking point. Zenovich has changed the card several times, and it currently makes a generic statement about the judge's desire for an on-the-record trial.

The interesting thing about all this controversy isn't so much the he-said-she-said debate about a fairly minor aspect of the trial, but the fact that this controversy is happening at all. Zenovich's documentary, which I will see in July, apparently throws a whole new light on a story many of us thought we already knew. But the fact that there's still debate over the very events of the trial, and not just the blame, is fascinating. How has Polanski remained hidden in plain sight all these years, winning Oscars and other accolades but leaving this one section of his life a big, shadowy mystery that everyone knows about? I'm not even interested in righteous outrage over what he did or did not do, but just stepping back and marveling at how he's remained beloved, wanted and desired while, for all intents and purposes, being a convicted rapist.

Controversy doesn't always guarantee a movie's success-- Brian De Palma was the latest director to prove that when his Redacted fizzled even after he got into a public battle with his distributor. But Zenovich's documentary will benefit from the same indulgent Hollywood insider status Polanski did-- when you've got the backing of the people who matter, controversy can only be a good thing. Wanted and Desired will almost definitely hang on to be a contender come Oscar season. That's the kind of good publicity that only bad publicity can buy.

Today's Film News: Mendes Fired Up for Cage Again

By Katey Rich

Gr387Those unlucky moviegoers who actually saw last February's Ghost Rider have spoken of the awful, non-existent chemistry between stars Eva Mendes and Nicolas Cage. And now we all get to relive it! Variety reports that Mendes is considering signing on to Werner Herzog's "re-imagining" of Bad Lieutenant, already set to star Cage as the no-good cop of the title. Also, according to Hollywood Elsewhere, the official title is now Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Guess those hefty tax breaks really do get you the proper credit!

Little boys who play with lassos, light sabers and their Iron Man action figures have died and gone to heaven today: Robert Downey, Jr. has signed on to star in the DreamWorks-Universal tentpole Cowboys & Aliens. The Hollywood Reporter writes that the movie will be based on a graphic novel about a battle between settlers and Indians in the Old West that is interrupted by an arriving spaceship. Downey would play a former Union Army soldier who is taking part in the battle. I think I speak for all 10-year-olds (and 10-year-olds at heart) when I say, "Awesome!"

RobotechTake a look at the image to the right and tell me you don't immediately think of Speed Racer and the financial fallout that occurred after it was released last month. Despite the fact that its hero looks an awful lot like Speed, the anime series "Robotech" will become a live-action project at Warner Bros., with Lawrence Kasdan writing the screenplay. The Hollywood Reporter describes it as "a sprawling sci-fi epic," and the producers will now commence describing it in terms that remind no one of Speed Racer.

Disney continues making inroads in the Chinese film industry, with another China-made movie planned for next year. Touch of the Panda, according to Variety, was shot in the Sichuan Province, which was hit hard by an earthquake last month. The story follows a panda who is rescued by a boy who is an orphan himself.

Weekend Roundup: Hulking its Way to First Place

By Katey Rich


The Incredible Hulk may have been the box-office champion this weekend, but the real story for me is The Happening, the dismally reviewed, poorly buzzed drama from M. Night Shyamalan that was roundly expected to flop spectacularly. Instead, it notched the second-best June opening for an R-rated movie with $30.5 million (Knocked Up, the R-rated champ from last summer, made $30.7 million). The take was good enough for second place, right behind last weekend's champ Kung Fu Panda, which made $34 million.

And even though Hulk was tops here at home with its $54 million bow, The Happening beat it overseas, helped by the fact that it was playing on nearly 2,000 more screens. This all means that, despite making a film that is mostly kindly described as "uneven," Shyamalan has bounced back from last summer's Lady in the Water, and may have another hit or two in him yet.

In the rest of the top ten, the holdovers continue playing pretty much according to expectations. The Adam Sandler comedy You Don't Mess with the Zohan tumbled 57% from last week and came in at #4 with $16 million. Right behind it was Indiana Jones, which has moved ahead of Sex and the City ever since the female-driven comedy beat it out for the #1 spot two weeks ago. Indy made $13.5 million at #5, while Sex and the City lagged behind with $10 million. Indy, it should be noted, is flirting with the $300 million mark, while Sex zoomed past $100 million last week.

Heading toward $300 million as well is Iron Man, continuing to show strong legs and coming in at #7 this time around, with $5 million. It beat out the newer horror effort The Strangers, which is still hanging on impressively at #8 with $4 million. And finally, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is straggling with $3 million at #9, with What Happens in Vegas bringing up the rear with $1.7 million.

Once again, there's no real top 20 to speak of at Box Office Mojo, with so many tentpoles taking all the spoils for themselves. But outside the top 10 The Visitor keeps hanging on strongly, with $6.6 million to date, and Horton Hears a Who! perseveres despite competition from Kung Fu Panda. Plus Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Baby Mama are still kicking, all in the full chart after the jump.

'Happening' Shines Through MetaCritic Score

By Katey Rich

Though Film Journal only posts its review to the site Rotten Tomatoes, the other major review-aggregator out there,, is often a better source for the real picture of what's going on out there. Instead of simply assigning a "fresh" or "rotten" label to an individual review, the geniuses (or robots, or monkeys, or whatever) at MetaCritic assign a number rating to the review, based on how positive or negative it is. An all-out rave earns a 100, while something more guarded with a few complaints might get an 80. It's a weird science, but the result is an aggregate score that gives a more accurate read of the critical zeitgeist than RottenTomatoes' more crude "fresh rating."

The differences between the two become really clear with a film that gets mixed reviews, and this weekend's The Happening is a great example. The RottenTomatoes score is a dismal 21%--that's worse than Speed Racer got-- while the MetaCritic score is a much fairer 38%. Having read many of the reviews, it makes perfect sense. Most critics are crediting Shyamalan for his use of style and some genuinely original moments, while slapping him on the wrist for putting together a movie that, in the end, is incoherent. Unfortunately, that kind of equivocating doesn't show up in a Rotten Tomatoes rating that only accepts "good" or "bad" in its score. With a movie like The Happening, which could be well-described as "a good kind of bad," the nuance gets lost in the shuffle.

It makes me sad that so many people will see The Happening's 21% rating and brush it off entirely, because there's a lot of good stuff in there. Granted, much of it is overshadowed by Mark Wahlberg's horrendous acting and some plot twists seemingly pulled out of a hat. With competition like The Incredible Hulk this weekend, Shyamalan's movie doesn't stand much of a chance. I'm grateful, as always, for Rotten Tomatoes' publicity for Film Journal, but I hope they make sure their readers peek through the glaring bad rating to see some of the compliments critics had for this strange movie.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Today's Film News: The Sleepless Parent Trap

By Katey Rich

Theparenttrapposterc10134465Seatle The Parent Trap was real! Lonely only children, rejoice! Mike Rich, a frequent screenwriter for Disney (The Rookie) has sold another spec script to the studio, said by Variety to be a comedy based on a true story that contains elements of The Parent Trap and Sleepless in Seattle. So two kids will be separated at birth and then reunite their parents when one of them calls into a radio advice show? I'm not really clear on the particulars, but the source material is foolproof for sure.

It looks like a new series of crime novels might be threatening John Grisham's work for movie adaptations, and Gary Fleder seems to be just the right director to kick things off. The Kiss the Girls and Runaway Jury director will take charge of The Deep Blue Good-by, the first of John McDonald's series of novels starring Travis McGee. The Hollywood Reporter describes the lead character as "a free-living bachelor and reluctant hero who lives on a houseboat in Florida." Given that the novels were all written in the 60s and 70s, it's hard not to imagine the character resembling Elliott Gould's take on Philip Marlowe in the similarly titled The Long Goodbye. Guess we'll have to wait and see if "it's OK with me" for McGee.

I plan to spend a lot of time in Central Park this summer, to avoid baking myself in my tiny apartment, but I never had high hopes for finding anything mystical there. Apparently Warner Bros. has other ideas. The studio has acquired a spec script about a fantasy realm in the city park, according to Variety, which will be written by Bryan Schulz and Neil Uliano. No word on just how you find the realm, but wardrobes and magical trains are soooo overdone. Magic Metrocard?

And finally, the publicity efforts surrounding San Diego's Comic Con are ramping up-- the three-day convention for sci-fi and comic book geeks has quickly become one of the highest-profile occasions for studios to reach out directly to fans. Warner Bros. is planning a no-holds-barred effort to promote their upcoming City of Ember, according to Variety. They'll outfit a train car like a set from the movie, and screen a 15-minute segment of the film in another car. Unlike most studio's efforts, though, Warner Bros. isn't tangling with the fans-- they're only making the car available to elite members of the press. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't conventions all about bringing people together and sharing ideas? Since when was Comic Con a glorified press junket?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Box Office Outlook: Can the Hulk Make it Happen?

By Katey Rich

After a summer that's already boasted a handful of hits, the market seems to be bracing for some potential flops. That's one explanation for the one-two punch of this weekend's The Incredible Hulk and The Happening, two films with troubled back stories that may turn out to be more interesting than the movies themselves. Hulk will do its best this weekend to erase the memory of Ang Lee's 2003 take on the same character, while The Happening will hopefully allow moviegoers to forgive M. Night Shyamalan after 2006's disaster Lady in the Water. Based on the reviews so far, only one of these movies seems likely to pull off its goal.


THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Opening in 3,400 theatres. Using the 2003 Hulk film as a kind of origin story, The Incredible Hulk starts over with a whole new cast but gets right into the action. Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner, who is on the run from the U.S. government, which wants to take advantage of his green alter ego. Liv Tyler plays his devoted love Betty, with William Hurt as her father, General Ross, who is part of the government's shady plan. Tim Roth eventually joins the fun as a British mercenary on the Hulk's tail who eventually develops some superpowers of his own. French director Louis Leterrier, previously responsible for the Transporter series, directs.

Most critics are pretty happy with the new direction Leterrier is taking with the story, but our Ethan Alter isn't exactly one of them. "For all its emphasis on action, the movie is actually a more tedious sit than Lee's film," he writes. "That's because the first Hulk actually attempted to tell a story in between set-pieces." Newsday also gripes, "It's not nearly fresh enough." But many other critics were pleased with the action-packed reboot, with The Arizona Republic getting into the spirit and writing, "Hulk good. Me like Hulk, whole lot. Grrr." And Variety sees lots of promise in this straightforward action effort: "Happy to give the intended audience what it wants, this loud and quick-moving production will shake loose ample coin in all markets."

Thehappening1_largeTHE HAPPENING. Opening in 3,000 theatres. For his latest film, thriller auteur M. Night Shyamalan has taken a spooky image-- people suddenly committing mass suicide-- and turned it into a kind of thoughtful disaster movie. Mark Wahlberg stars as a science teacher who is escaping Philadelphia with his wife (Zooey Deschanel), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his friend's daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez). The group must figure out what is causing the suicides and how to escape it, while coping with the way humans will behave when put in life-or-death circumstances. The cause of the suicides has been considered the film's great mystery, but most reviews spoil it, so read no further if you want to stay pure.

OK, now that those people are gone... Most critics have zero patience for Shyamalan's latest, though some acknowledge that there's artistry at work here. I was one of them: "The Happening isn't the triumphant comeback Shyamalan sorely needs, but it's a reminder that he has the style and instincts of a talented filmmaker. Now if only he could find a story worth telling." The Hollywood Reporter isn't thrilled with the concept that the people-killing toxins are being released by plants: "The ecological idea of Planet Earth striking back at humankind might bring a smile to Al Gore, but in terms of cinematic intrigue and nail-biting tension, it's just not happening." "It's beyond good and evil. It's dumbfounding," writes Carrie Rickey at the Philadelphia Inquirer of her hometown filmmaker. The Washington Post complains, "Shyamalan [...] isn't entirely sure what kind of movie he's making, and he shuffles through personalities looking for one that interests him." And Entertainment Weekly shares my complaint about Shyamalan's direction of his main characters: "The filmmaker has fun with the cinematic conventions of social paranoia (all his most interesting minor characters with unusual faces are surely doomed) but is a sucker for overacting among his major players."

Today's Film News: Bana Stands Up

By Katey Rich

Munich001There was a charming moment in last summer's Knocked Up, when the quintet of slacker roommates decided that, as Jews, they had to thank Eric Bana for his badass performance in Munich. Now it seems that director Judd Apatow is thanking Bana in the best way he can, by casting him in his upcoming project, Funny People. Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann and Seth Rogen had already been announced as the main cast, and now Bana (who got his start doing stand-up and sketch comedy in Australia), Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman will be on board as well. Variety also said the movie will be about a stand-up comedian who has a near-death experience.

Jack Black is one of the most common names in our Blue Sheets section, where he seems to be part of every other "out-there" comedy that goes into development. Now he's taken his name off one of them-- Black dropped out of Todd Phillips' Man-Witch, about a man who discovers his true identity and goes to teach at an all-female witchcraft school. The Hollywood Reporter says the project is still in "active development"; Phillips was the force behind Old School and a writer on Borat, so he's not exactly an up-and-comer who needs Black's support to survive.

Uh-oh. I've been avoiding coverage of the potential SAG strike and their negotiations with the Association of Motion Picture & Television Producers, out of a blind hope that we wouldn't be facing another strike. But now Variety is reporting that negotiations aren't going so well, and most insiders aren't expecting a resolution by the June 30 deadline. The union hasn't decided to ask their members to authorize a strike, but SAG president Alan Rosenberg told Variety that "if we do, we'll have to fairly soon." In better news, he also said the union will work past the expiration date if they're still negotiating. Are we headed for a labor union war of attrition?

Despite the serious failure of the Bewitched movie a few summers ago, producer Sid Ganis is taking a shot at adapting another 60s magical realism TV icon, I Dream of Jeannie. Now Rita Hsiao, who polished up the scripts for Enchanted and 13 Going on 30, will take a stab at the new script, the Reporter tells us. Apparently the screenplay Hsiao submitted puts Jeannie "smack in the middle of contemporary times and circumstances," which has to mean she'll stop calling the main character "Master." Right? Can we really have come such a short distance?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Today's Film News: Seth Rogen Can Save the World?

By Katey Rich

RogenBaruchelTurns out Seth Rogen is more powerful than any of us ever imagined. Not only has the Pineapple Express star and co-writer managed to get a feature film made of a short Internet video he made with his friends, but he and co-writer/producer Evan Goldberg will get final cut on the project at Mandate Pictures. The Hollywood Reporter says Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse will star Rogen and Knocked Up co-star Jay Baruchel as two guys who, cooped up in hiding after monsters take over the world, still can't stop fighting.

Speaking of Knocked Up alums, Katherine Heigl will take on her first big dramatic role, starring as Carolyn Jessop in an adaptation of her memoir Escape, about her life with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. The polygamist FLDS church came under scrutiny in 2006 when its leader, Warren Jeffs, was arrested for arranging marriages between older men and teenage girls (Jessop was in one of these marriages at the compound in Utah). Variety writes that Heigl will produce with her mother, Nancy, along with Michael Menchel and Cat Williams.

WhathappenedWhat Just Happened?, one of Sundance's most high-profile entries that did not get picked up for distribution, will finally see release thanks to Magnolia Pictures, a distribution sibling of the movie's own production company, 2929 Pictures. Variety writes that the movie, which stars Robert De Niro, Stanley Tucci, Catherine Keener and others, will open in limited release on October 3. 

And finally, I love the headline of this Reporter piece: "License to print money for Disney." Apparently the company's earnings for film-related merchandise will rise 12% this year to a record $30 billion globally. After all, this is the company that can sell you not just your own stuffed Nemo or Cars pajamas, but posters of the "High School Musical" cast and virtually anything you want with Hannah Montana's face on it. I'd complain about consumerism and the like, but I'll have to wait until I get my stuffed WALL-E.