Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today's Film News: Sony Feels Venomous

By Katey Rich

VenomThough it's still counting on getting a little extra mileage from the webslinger series by developing a Spider-Man 4, Sony is also trying to move ahead with a spinoff movie based on Venom, a.k.a. Eddie Brock, the villain played by Topher Grace in the most recent spider outing. The Hollywood Reporter says the studio isn't convinced that Grace can topline a big action movie, perhaps forgetting entirely how famous Tobey Maguire was when the first Spider-Man opened.

I had been under the impression that the Bill half of the Bill & Ted duo had disappeared from the face of the Earth after Keanu became famous, but apparently Alex Winter has been hard at work updating-- or perhaps tarnishing?-- the reputation of the Ramones from the 1979 movie Rock 'n Roll High School. Variety reports that Winter and Howard Stern will team up to remake the film, about a rock band helping a group of high schoolers strike back against the principal.

You'll probably never see zombies roaming around Disneyland, but Sam Raimi, the man who made a career on zombies, will be teaming up with Disney for The Transplants, described in the Reporter as "a four-quadrant ensemble superhero story with a comedic bent." Raimi is already a busy guy, and he even recently announced at Comic Con that he was starting work on an Evil Dead 4. Maybe he was just jealous of Guillermo del Toro for getting all the attention by taking on a ton of new projects, so now Raimi is just overcompensating.

And finally, The Hollywood Reporter's Risky Biz blog has some thoughts on the superhero genre, and where it can go from here after the one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Iron Man. They compare it to the Westerns genre, and if their analogy holds, we'll be getting a superhero version of Shane sometime soon. To quote the Nite Owl of the upcoming Watchmen, another superhero movie potentially poised to change the genre, God help us all.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Today's Film News: Marvin Returns

By Katey Rich

MarvinRemember Space Jam, the 1996 movie that blended animated Looney Tunes characters with live-action actors? Warner Bros. is revisiting the concept with a feature film based on Marvin the Martian, the alien character forever intent on blowing up the Earth. Variety reports that the idea is to make it a Christmas story, "with Marvin coming to Earth to destroy Christmas but being prevented from doing so when he's trapped in a gift box." I think stunned silence is the appropriate response here.

Guillermo del Toro clearly has been dabbling in human cloning, since there is no way he can actually be participating in all the projects he's signed up for recently. The Hollywood Reporter announced today that he and Miramax will produce a remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a 1973 TV horror movie. Del Toro is somehow adapting the screenplay, despite the fact that's supposedly holed up in New Zealand with a bunch of hobbits at this point. This whole secret clone thing would probably make a great horror movie, to be directed by del Toro #1 of course.

09_inglouriousbastards1_lgQuentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards screenplay has been leaked widely online, despite not even having a cast yet, and now it's already finding a studio home without a single foot of film being shot. Variety says Universal and The Weinstein Co. are in negotiations to team up and bring the film to theatres.

And finally, The Reporter has published the findings of an interesting survey by parent company Nielsen, which finds that comedies suffer most from getting an R rating as opposed to PG-13. Horror movies, on the other hand, make virtually no more money by being accessible to a wider audience with a lower rating. Not good news for the upcoming duo of R-rated comedies, Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Weekend Roundup: You Can't Kill the Batman

By Katey Rich

Knight600 _12021010375650

Despite the Joker's best efforts, pretty much nothing can kill the Batman. The Dark Knight dropped just over 50% in its second weekend, bringing in $75 million to set two records-- the highest-grossing second weekend ever, and the fastest film to reach $300 million. Optimistic prognosticators are now saying Dark Knight could break $500 million domestically, shooting past all films other than Titanic.

Unbelievably, Dark Knight wasn't the only movie to have a stellar weekend-- Step Brothers, the R-rated John C. Reilly & Will Ferrell comedy, opened to $30 million, despite aiming for the exact same young audience that was seeing Dark Knight a second and third time this weekend. X-Files: I Want to Believe, on the other hand, floundered in its debut, bringing in just $10 million and landing at #4.

In-between the newcomers was Mamma Mia!, which fell just 35% in its second weekend and made another $17 million. It has a partner in solid performance with Journey to the Center of the Earth, dropping just 23% in its second weekend to come in at #5 with $9 million.

The rest of the top 10 was filled with a few blockbusters and a few not-so-blockbusters. Hancock came in at #6 with $8.2 million, good enough to cross the $200 million mark. Right behind it was Wall-E, with $6 million for the weekend and looking poised to cross $200 million itself. Hellboy II: The Golden Army, on the other hand, is experiencing a far-faster box-office death than it deserved; it made $4.9 million this weekend as it starts dropping theatres.

Wrapping things up, Space Chimps continues to fail to make an impression on moviegoers, bringing in $4.3 million. And making its last appearance in the top 10, Wanted earned $2.7 million, bringing its total to a healthy $128 million.

Outside the top 10, and even the top 20, there were a whole lot of interesting specialty debuts, so we'll include them courtesy of Box Office Mojo. Brideshead Revisited, another adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel, debuted strong with a $10,000 per-theatre average from 33 locations. Man on Wire was an even stronger contender, becoming the only movie to beat Dark Knight's per-theatre average for the weekend with $48,000 from two theatres. American Teen was right behind it but notably less competitive, with just $42,800 from five theatres. And CSNY: Deja Vu, which sounds more like another "CSI" spinoff than the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young documentary it actually is, made a meager $36,100 from 24 theatres.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
11The Dark KnightWB$75,630,000-52.3%4,366-$17,322$314,245,000$1852
2NStep BrothersSony$30,000,000-3,094-$9,696$30,000,000$651
32Mamma Mia!Uni.$17,865,000-35.6%2,990+14$5,974$62,714,000$522
4NThe X-Files: I Want to BelieveFox$10,200,000-3,185-$3,202$10,200,000$301
54Journey to the Center of the EarthNL$9,415,000-23.7%2,688-142$3,502$60,185,000$603
85Hellboy II: The Golden ArmyUni.$4,934,000-51.2%3,018-194$1,634$65,894,000$853
97Space ChimpsFox$4,375,000-39.1%2,538+27$1,723$16,006,000$372
119Get SmartWB$2,300,000-44.2%1,420-715$1,619$124,214,000$806
1210Kung Fu PandaP/DW$1,030,000-44.6%917-588$1,123$208,972,000$1308
Click here to find out more!
1313Kit Kittredge: An American GirlPicH$593,000-37.7%535-234$1,108$15,267,000-6
1412Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullPar.$550,000-42.5%477-280$1,153$313,626,000$18510
1514Sex and the CityNL$460,000-36.2%347-168$1,325$150,854,000$659
1617Tell No OneMBox$430,000+7.2%77+22$5,584$1,661,000-4
1715The Incredible HulkUni.$425,000-32.2%403-253$1,054$132,543,000$1507
1811Meet DaveFox$375,000-77.4%503-2,508$745$10,833,000$603
19NBrideshead RevisitedMira.$332,000-33-$10,060$332,000-1
2016Iron ManPar.$289,000-36.0%274-101$1,054$314,905,000$14013
2125The WacknessSPC$241,000+59.9%120+86$2,008$1,072,000-4
-31Brick LaneSPC$62,200-25.4%49+1$1,269$653,000-6
-NMan on WireMagn.$48,000-2-$24,000$48,000-1
-NAmerican TeenParV$42,800-5-$8,560$42,800-1
-NCSNY: Deja VuRAtt.$36,100-24-$1,504$36,100-1
-30The Love GuruPar.$36,000-58.4%107-76$336$31,891,000$626
-48Before the RainsRAtt.$32,850+10.9%16-6$2,053$910,000-12
-44The FallRAtt.$19,500-45.8%30-8$650$2,140,000-12
-61War, Inc.First$17,400+42.6%25+5$696$566,000-10
-NBoy AWein.$11,400-2-$5,700$13,100-1
-68Lou Reed's BerlinTRR$4,070-50.8%2-$2,035$19,000-2

Friday, July 25, 2008

Today's Film News: Robo-Reboot

By Katey Rich

Robocop10002A director who has made his name with mind-bending independent films is taking on a beloved character from the past who has suffered from some not-so-great movies in recent years. No, not Christopher Nolan, silly! It's Darren Aronofsky, signing on to direct MGM's reboot of RoboCop. Variety adds that David Self, who wrote Road to Perdition and 13 Days, will be adding a little more prestige to the whole thing. Well, even if it doesn't work out, the paycheck should fund at least one or two more movies about Rachel Weisz traveling through time and turning into a tree.

This Hollywood Reporter item points out something interesting about "The Twilight Zone" that had never actually occurred to me. Even decades after the show went off the air, it's a palpable part of pop culture, more so than probably any show of its time period. And now Leonardo DiCaprio is aiming to make it even more ever-present, acquiring the rights along with Warner Bros. to many of the show's episodes. The idea is to make a movie that's one long story, rather than a series of vignettes like those in the 1983 Twilight Zone movie.

Haroldandkumargotowhitecastle1Harold and Kumar may have finally made it to White Castle and even escaped from Guantanamo Bay, but they're not done having adventures. Stars John Cho and Kal Penn have signed on for a third movie, as have writers and directors Hayden Schlossberg and Jon Hurwitz. Variety says that Warner Bros. will likely distribute the film, taking over for the now-shuttered New Line.

And finally, prognosticators say The Dark Knight could very well bring its total domestic grosses to $300 million this weekend. That would be record time for a movie to reach that mark. Will The Dark Knight and Titanic go down as the two biggest movies of all time, some weird black-white allegory for the things that Americans love most?

Box Office Outlook: The X-Factor

By Katey Rich

It looks like this weekend may be only the third of the summer to produce a two-time #1 movie. The Dark Knight has continued its hot winning streak throughout the week, setting all-time records for best Monday and Tuesday grosses, and looks to be a powerhouse come Friday as well. Luckily there are no more superheroes to try to grab the crown; Step Brothers and The X-Files: I Want to Believe are both reasonable counter-programming, though X-Files seems likely to suffer in the vast Bat shadow. Plus, only one of the new releases has gotten good reviews-- see if you can guess whether or not it's the one that features Will Ferrell beating John C. Reilly with a shovel.


THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Opening in 3,100 theatres. Mulder and Scully are back, 10 years after their last on-screen adventure and six years after the TV show "The X-Files" went off the air. The plot of the new film has been kept top-secret, but seems to involve a missing FBI agent who Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) have to track down. The supernatural presumably plays a role somehow. Series creator Chris Carter is back as director, writer and producer on the new film.

The truth is probably still out there, but most critics don't seem to be interested in hearing it. Our Frank Lovece goes pun-crazy and calls it an "X-cruciatingly un-X-ceptional X-ercise," and Time remarks that "so much has changed that [Mulder and Scully] seem the aliens." "In searching for a great X-Files movie, that truth remains out there," scoffs Variety. Newsday, on the other hand, was perfectly satisfied: "The way the film marries its subplots will keep audiences off balance, which is exactly right for an X-Files movie." And Roger Ebert particularly appreciated the lack of whiz-bang CGI effects: "There was a tangible quality to the film that made the suspense more effective because it involved the physical world."

StepbrothersposterbigSTEP BROTHERS. Opening in 2,800 theatres. Talladega Nights co-stars John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell are together again in Step Brothers as the siblings of the title-- 40-year-olds who have been happily living at home with their single parents until mom and dad decide to marry. The two handle it about as well as your average 12-year-olds would, playing pranks on each other and squabbling until they decide the great enemy is a younger brother (Adam Scott) who is both a bully and a real grown-up. Yes, the plot really is that simple. Adam McKay directs.

People cool to Ferrell and Reilly's previous efforts may not be amused, but I, for one, had a ball. "Enjoying Step Brothers may require regressing to an adolescent sense of humor, but why resist?" I wrote. "There's something in all of us that wants to laugh when two grown men don matching Chewbacca masks in their treehouse." Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly liked it, writing, "It's not just an idiot revel: It's nutty, profane, and caustically heartless." But The Chicago Tribune complains "enough with the 40-year-old teenagers for a while," and The San Francisco Chronicle calls it "essentially a throwaway film, one that might have gone straight-to-video if Apatow had not had such a hot hand."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Today's Film News: More Ultra-Clutch Please!

By Katey Rich

Hairspray1Remakes are hot, but sequels of remakes of movies that were turned into Broadway musicals first? Now that's where the real money is. New Line has gathered together the director/choreographer, producers and lyricists from last summer's hit Hairspray, as well as the director of the original film, John Waters, and talked them all into doing a sequel. Variety said none of the actors signed contracts for a sequel, but they're hoping to bring the whole cast back onboard in time for a summer 2010 release. You can't stop the beat, indeed.

Journalist-turned-screenwriter Evan Wright knows a thing or two about the Iraq War, so it's time to see how he can translate that knowledge to something a wee bit different-- the Florida drug trade in the 1980s. Mark Wahlberg has signed on to play Jon Roberts, who rose to be a drug kingpin in Miami and eventually served 10 years in prison. The Hollywood Reporter also notes that Peter Berg is set to direct.

CaptbloodBack in the 1930s, it was possible for a movie called Captain Blood to get nominated for a Best Picture. And while Philip Noyce's planned remake of the swashbuckling epic, announced by the Reporter today, may not aim for the gold statue, it might be a fun take on the high seas that involves no pirates wearing eyeliner. Errol Flynn starred in the original, so Noyce had better get to work immediately with the difficult job of filling those shoes.

And finally, Tyler Perry shows no sign of stopping his string of box-office hits; he's signed a three-year, first-look deal with Lionsgate, and the studio intends to distribute at least three more of his films following the two planned for this fall and winter, The Family That Preys and Madea Goes to Jail. Variety says that Lionsgate will also handle Perry's DVD releases.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Replacing Ebert & Roeper Won't Win New Audiences

By Katey Rich


When something like thyroid cancer and even the death of his co-host didn't keep Roger Ebert away from the TV show he founded, it seemed nothing could separate Ebert and "At the Movies." But now Disney's television unit has decided to take the show "in a new direction," and Ebert, along with his current sideman Richard Roper, will be leaving the show. Presumably they'll be taking their thumbs with them, which are almost certainly pointing down.

Ebert, who hasn't been in the show in some time due to his illness, only quit after Roeper's contract was not renewed, and it appears that there's some bad blood involved. And now that the replacement hosts, Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, have been chosen, it seems clear that the new direction is "about 30 years younger." Roger Ebert may be beloved almost universally, but he certainly isn't hip with the kids.

But will Disney's move, equivalent to treason in some circles, actually pay off? Does anyone actually turn on their television for their movie information these days? I know we're in an era when CNN covers Brad and Angelina, but I'm not sure that same prurient interest translates to discussion of actual movies. For kids these days who are into movies, they can head to IMDB and spout off about whatever they like, or, without too much effort, get their own movie blog. (See! Look how easy it is!) On the Internet, as they say, no one knows you're not a movie critic.

It seems maybe a better plan would have been to take Ebert & Roeper online, which they already were to some extent, and reach out to the connected Internet users who know and trust Ebert's opinions. Mankiewicz and Lyons already have their own followings in their work so far, but I imagine it'll take a while to build up the same kind of reputation Ebert has had for years. Movie criticism is struggling in some ways to stay relevant given the rise of "everyone's a critic" online culture, but this seems like one particularly hysterical example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Today's Film News: By the Hammer of Thor!

By Katey Rich

Hercules_2We've seen God knows how many takes on Hercules and his fellow Greek myths, but as is the vogue these days, it's time for a comic-book spin on the whole thing. Peter Berg (Hancock) will direct Hercules: The Thracian Wars, an adaptation of the five-issue comic book by Steve Moore that debuted this year. Variety says that Spyglass Entertainment and Universal will co-finance the film.

Here, I'll just tell you the concept of Bryan Singer's upcoming producing project, Capeshooters, and you can guess the source material: Two paparazzi follow a group of superheroes who have discovered that one of their leaders is actually a villain. You'll have to check the Variety piece to see if you're right, since I can barely bring myself to type the C-B word in these items anymore. Aren't there regular books, without pictures, we can base movies on anymore?

VegasOh look! Here's a real, live adaptation of a book with absolutely zero pictures. Moritz Berman and Peter Graves, the producers of the upcoming Terminator: Salvation among others, have optioned the rights to The Seven Sins: The Tyrant Ascending, a crime thriller by Jon Land. The owner of the book's rights, Fabrizio Boccardi, is a Las Vegas entrepreneur who plans to build a casino with the same name as the one in the novel, which has to eventually be protected from terrorist attacks. Happily The Hollywood Reporter doesn't mention any further plans to make life imitate art.

And finally, the bad news keeps coming in the world of independent film financing. Netflix's Red Envelope Entertainment, which funded indie projects with promise of exclusive DVD and online streaming rights for the DVD rental service, has shut down. The Hollywood Reporter says the company's reason for closing was that it was in competition with Hollywood studio partners-- which means, it seems, the independent film pie is getting even smaller for anyone but the biggest players.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Today's Film News: Dark Cash

By Katey Rich

Dk_2This is kind of yesterday's news, but why not open the day on a happy note: The Dark Knight in fact grossed $3 million more than initially reported Monday, bringing its three-day total to $158.3 million. Variety adds that the new figure takes the overall weekend haul to $260 million, a titanic amount that far outpaces the previous record of $218 million.

Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York premiered to mixed results at Cannes in May, but it may finally find an American distributor with Sony Pictures Classics, which The Hollywood Reporter says is in advanced negotiations to acquire the film. Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in the movie as a theatre director who builds a recreation of New York City inside a soundstage.

BaroncoheSacha Baron Cohen can add "Hispanic lawyer" to his long list of shape-shifting characters, with the upcoming comedy Accidentes. The actor will star in the film written by Peter Baynham, who also co-wrote Borat with Baron Cohen. The character, according to Variety, is an ambulance-chasing lawyer who has a change of heart and becomes a crusader for the working class of Los Angeles.

And finally, Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy intended to make the jump to independent, personal filmmaking with The Way Back, but he will now only serve as a producer on the project, which has switched from Fox Searchlight to Mandate Pictures. The Reporter says that no director is yet attached to replace Levy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Roundup: Mamma Mia, What a Hit!

By Katey Rich


In a weekend battle between a bubbly musical and the darkest superhero movie ever, pretty much everyone figured The Dark Knight would win in a rout. But, kind of like the ending of Mamma Mia!, everyone was a winner this weekend. Hollywood notched the biggest three-day period in history, a stunning $250 million, with about two-thirds of that going to the Caped Crusader. The Dark Knight topped Spider-Man 3 as the best three-day opener ever, bringing in a gigantic $155 million. Slightly less than my prediction of "a bascrillion dollars," but still, no disappointment.

But hey, there was another movie coming out this weekend too, and you didn't have to stand in a line wrapped around the block to see it! Mamma Mia!, the bounciest musical since last summer's Hairspray, bested that previous summer hit with the best-ever opening for a musical, $27.6 million. Yes, those are puny human numbers compared to what Batman managed, but pretty stellar for a movie that features Colin Firth in a studded leather collar. Unfortunately, the third wide release of the weekend couldn't manage quite the same numbers. Despite kind reviews, Space Chimps premiered at #7, with a puny $7.3 million.

Among the holdovers, the most curious performance comes from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which declined a ridiculous 70% in its second weekend, despite being pretty good. It landed at #5 with $10 million, and may be in danger of being overshadowed by The Dark Knight, which is a better movie, but not nearly as fun. Hellboy was bested by the other cracked superhero Hancock, who stayed strong at #3 with $14 million. Between them was Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is playing so well in 3D that it landed at #4 with $11 million, just a 43% drop from last weekend's opening. Presumably it will have kids reaching out to grab things on the screen for the rest of the summer.

Also staying strong on the strength of kid audiences is Wall-E, which made $9 million in sixth place this week and is well on its way to crossing $200 million. Wanted, at #8, brought in another $5 million to add to its $120 million-plus total. And wrapping things up were June hits Get Smart and Kung Fu Panda, both of which are dropping theatres to make room for the late summer contenders; Get Smart made $4 million at #9, and Kung Fu Panda brought up the rear with $1.7 million.

In the truncated top 20 (actually the top 17) courtesy of Box Office Mojo, there's a bunch of May hits still playing to anyone who hasn't managed to see them yet, but there's also Tell No One, the French thriller that is expanding into more theatres and continuing to find an audience. Amid the bustle of movies big (Dark Knight) and moderately big (Mamma Mia!), there's still a little room for something small. Take a look after the jump.

TWLWTitle (click to view)StudioWeekend Gross% ChangeTheater Count / ChangeAverageTotal GrossBudget*Week #
1NThe Dark KnightWB$155,340,000-4,366-$35,579$155,340,000$1801
2NMamma Mia!Uni.$27,605,000-2,976-$9,275$27,605,000$521
43Journey to the Center of the EarthNL$11,910,000-43.3%2,830+19$4,208$43,074,000$602
51Hellboy II: The Golden ArmyUni.$10,038,000-70.9%3,212+8$3,125$56,447,000$852
7NSpace ChimpsFox$7,350,000-2,511-$2,927$7,350,000-1
96Get SmartWB$4,085,000-43.3%2,135-951$1,913$119,569,000$805
108Kung Fu PandaP/DW$1,750,000-60.3%1,505-1,199$1,162$206,506,000$1307
117Meet DaveFox$1,635,000-68.9%3,011-$543$9,374,000$602
1211Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullPar.$970,000-57.1%757-907$1,281$312,584,000$1859
Click here to find out more!
1310Kit Kittredge: An American GirlPicH$914,000-60.3%769-1,080$1,188$13,732,000-5
1412Sex and the CityNL$715,000-55.4%515-510$1,388$149,864,000$658
159The Incredible HulkUni.$623,000-73.2%656-1,289$949$131,764,000$1506
1614Iron ManPar.$435,000-53.7%375-335$1,160$314,360,000$14012
1721Tell No OneMBox$409,000+64.5%55+36$7,436$1,065,000-3

Friday, July 18, 2008

Box Office Outlook: The Darkest Knight

By Katey Rich

The Dark Knight set records this weekend even before it began its midnight showings earlier today. It's playing at a record number of theatres, 4,366, just four more than the number claimed by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End last summer. And, if things go as well as everyone has reason to expect they will, Batman's latest adventure will see one of the highest-ever opening weekends, possibly coming just below the record held by Spider-Man 3. Oh, and there are two other movies opening in wide release this weekend that some other people might care about. This is one of those weekends, though, where it's very clear who's king.

DarkknightposterTHE DARK KNIGHT. Opening in 4,366 theatres. A year after he introduced himself to Gotham and saved its people from mortal peril, Batman (Christian Bale) remains a mercurial, outsider figure in his home city. He's eliminated crime but not quite enough, so that Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) and district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are teaming up with the caped one to rid the city of its remaining crime bosses. That is, until the Joker (Heath Ledger) descends upon the city, aiming to create chaos wherever he goes and, as he puts it, "Kill the Batman." There is also plenty of political intrigue, and plot twists too interesting and damn hard to explain to fit in here. And you're going to see the movie anyway, no matter what, so why aren't you in the theatre right now?

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this grim, dark movie, guaranteed to make as much money as you can imagine, is that the critics have lined up to sing its praises. And it's not all just for Heath Ledger, either, whom most agree is stunning in his last completed performance. Our Frank Lovece says the movie "takes the expectations attached to superhero movies and subverts and reverses them in unexpected ways, asking pointed questions about that heroic archetype without sacrificing action and suspense." "This is powerful, propulsive filmmaking," writes The Los Angeles Times, and The New Republic calls it "a work of exceptional, though not always realized, ambition." The Village Voice promises, "The Dark Knight will give your adrenal glands their desired workout, but it will occupy your mind, too, and even lead it down some dim alleyways where most Hollywood movies fear to tread." And, OK, let's get into those Ledger raves. "A stupendously creepy performance, wild but never over the top."-- Newsweek. "His Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and the performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the characterization pulls you in almost at once."-- The New York Times. "Ledger has made this anarchic maniac a singular and supremely unhinged villain. From the clumsily repellant way he flips his tongue around to his sneering, nasal voice, he is a peerless eccentric."-- USA Today. In short: The darkest comic book movie ever made is also right up there with the most successful.

1sht_mammamia_lgMAMMA MIA! Opening in 2,976 theatres. Because Hairspray got us all tapping our feet this time last summer, we now have another Broadway transfer to entertain us if we're not in the mood for the grim bat. Mamma Mia! is essentially a collection of ABBA songs, strung together with a plot that involves three potential fathers of a young bride (Amanda Seyfried) getting hitched on the Greek island where she was raised by her single mom (Meryl Streep). Old friends(Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) and old flames (Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan as the possible dads) arrive for the festivities. Lots and lots and lots of singing, dancing and ABBA ensue.

Well, you can't have two near-perfect movies come out in one weekend, can you? To be fair, Mamma Mia! hasn't been trashed too terribly by the press, most of whom seem half-embarassed to admit they enjoyed it. I especially like A.O. Scott's take in The New York Times: "If you insist on folding your arms, looking at your watch and defending yourself against this mindless, hedonistic assault on coherence, you are unlikely to survive until the end credits (which may, by themselves, kill you all over again). Surrender, on the other hand, is easy and painless. It's Greece! It's bellybuttons! It's Meryl Streep! It's ABBA!" The Boston Globe was even more overjoyed: "The movie takes the ABBA jukebox musical that ate London, and is still eating Broadway, and turns it into a surprisingly sensuous experience." Other critics, though, were running for the exits: "I felt I was being thoroughly, and unenjoyably, punished," writes Stephanie Zacharek at The Washington Post calls it "an ABBA-bomb wrapped in a huge turquoise-colored feather boa." Even the cheerful Roger Ebert is unhappy, though he admits he might be in the minority: "This movie wasn't made for me. It was made for the people who will love it [...] I feel like the grouch at the party."


SPACE CHIMPS. Opening in 2,511 theatres. The legacy left by the first chimpanzees to go into space, back at the beginning of NASA, is represented today by Ham III (the voice of Andy Samberg), a circus chimp who has no aspirations to carry on the family name. But when there's a dangerous space mission that only chimps can complete, Ham is recruited along with a few other chimps to head off to a wormhole and rescue an important piece of equipment. They land on a faraway planet ruled by the monster Zartog (Jeff Daniels). Hijinks and heroism presumably ensue.

Surprisingly enough, most critics have had enough room in their heart after their Dark Knight raves to put a kiss on the forehead of Space Chimps. The New York Times begins its review thusly: "Journalism is all about having the courage to write the truth even if it will get you mocked by your relatives and co-workers, so here goes: Space Chimps is hilarious." Roger Ebert, having cheered up after Mamma Mia!, calls it "delightful from beginning to end." "The CG animation is nothing special," confesses The Hollywood Reporter, "but the characters are surprisingly fun and the story is full of enough puns, wordplay and slapstick to elicit laughs from across the age spectrum." But the Onion A.V. Club isn't happy at all: "The patronizing script, cheap human stereotypes, console-level animation, and overly similar chase scenes all make for a punishing experience."