Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's the movies, not the popcorn, that will be stale in early 2010

By Sarah Sluis

Conventional wisdom says that the more you move around and/or delay a movie's release date, the worse it is. It's mostly, but not always, true.

The New York Times published an article this week

about the many movies releasing in January and February that were put in

production over a year ago. In fact, 16 of the 28 movies went into

production Wolfman in 2008 or earlier, well above the typical timeline for

movies, which usually release a year after production.

Lines of reasoning differ. Youth in Revolt (coming out 1/8/10), for example, was hampered

by the financial difficulties of its distributor, Weinstein Co. The

Green Zone
, about the war in Iraq, may have been moved for topical

reasons, but with all the trouble Iraq-themed movies have had at the

box office, it also may be just plain out of touch. The last-minute move of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island to February 19th from this holiday season is a little trickier to decipher. I think the upcoming thriller is either A) bad B) weird in a good way or C) good, but the studio lost confidence in it.

I have a particular interest in movie musical chairs because part of my job here at Film Journal involves keeping track of movie release dates. Every week I update our database of release dates, viewable online here in case you want to look up something. I've learned that not only does it matter if you change a movie's release date, it matters where you move it to, and how many times you change your mind.

Some movies vacillate between a few dates, and it's not unusual for them to return to a spot they held earlier. This often means little, just indecision on the part of the studios. Others seem to stalk towards their eventual (later) release date, getting moved farther and farther away until no one (they hope) realizes the movie was supposed to be out a year ago. Studios are either delaying the inevitable for another quarter or using the movie as filler, a placeholder to shove into a quiet weekend.

If two blockbusters are scheduled for the same release date, they sometimes play a game of chicken until the other one moves, but they're still contending for the prime summer and end-of-year spots. When I see a movie or would-be blockbuster move from a summer or winter holiday release to January, February, or September, I'm instantly suspicious. Case in point: The Wolfman, which will come out on February 12th after a year of delays. While studios are starting to put watchable movies into these dead time zones as all forms of media move away from the rerun and second-run model, the best strategy for the early winter will be to catch up on another stale, but delicious treat: the holiday releases.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A few good films in 2009

By Sarah Sluis
Perhaps it's the part of me that grew up in a world where "participant" ribbons were a standard consolation prize, but I wanted my top ten of 2009 to include some movies that won't be seeing much play at the Oscars or in other top tens, but are good films in their own right. In particular, I wanted to reward fine genre works, whether it was an arthouse take on a police procedural (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) or that rarest of the rare, a comedy that makes me laugh out loud (almost all of those made the list).

The Hangover: This is not an Oscar comedy. It's not dark and ironic, the protagonists are young, it made lots of money, and it's definitely, definitely not "quiet" or "black." The raunchy comedy earns my top honors because instead of that cringe-worthy tactic of having its characters get into deeper and deeper trouble for laughs (a no-no for sensitive souls like myself), it created humor from having its characters try to pick up all the pieces. Miraculously, it managed to find new ways to shock audiences, and it had the best missing big cat since Bringing Up Baby.

Avatar 2 Avatar: James Cameron's work feels like the sci-fi epics I loved

growing up: movies like Jurassic Park and Independence Day that broke

new technological ground and backed it up with a winning story (though

I'm not sure how well Independence Day holds up today). Cameron is a

master at his craft, and no adult will look at 3D the same way. Bonus

points for its environmental bent.

I Love You, Man: Another innovative comedy that turned romantic comedy conventions on their head and used the "falling in love" montage for the film's bromance. Its Rotten Tomato rating (in the eighties) is higher than most "awards" films, but it's received little end-of-the-year love. Having suffered through many terrible romantic comedies this year, it was a pleasure to watch something that was actually laugh-out-loud funny, and a welcome addition to the Judd Apatow-style comedy-bromance genre.

(500) Days of Summer: My indulgent, hipster choice. Young love has never been so ebullient than in this film that mixed up its chronology to make its kiss 'n break-up story novel. Its fantastic musical sequence (staged by director Marc Webb, a veteran of music videos) was proof that good things can come from music video-influenced films. It also violated the most important romcom trope: getting together at the end.

Thirst: Stylistically rigorous, this vampire tale is far, far from New Moon. Its scenes of sex and violenceThirst image will have you wriggling in your seat in discomfort, but director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) is truly a master at his craft, taking Asian horror to an artistic high, with a bit of a moralistic bent.

Up: Best thing about Up, #1: It makes you cry. Instead of adding double entendres for adult laughs, Pixar used the wide age range of its audience to make older viewers cry. The little kids next to me didn't get it, but I was wiping away tears underneath my 3D glasses. Best thing about Up, #2? It makes you laugh. The talking dogs were my most memorable chuckle of the year.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: I thought I was so sick of police procedurals, but Nicolas Cage brings the genre back with the baddest, most insane performance of the year. The seediness of Bad lieutentant nicolas cage New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina is made absurd by director Werner Herzog's inclusion of iguana point-of-view shots and the depictions of off-the-cuff abuse of power and drugs. A strange, strange movie, in all the right ways.

Precious: Based on the Novel �Push' by Sapphire: A tearjerker with equal parts horror and heart. Precious' world is so foreign to most of us, but director Lee Daniels makes it even more of a nightmare with his use of dream sequences and subjective point-of-view. Mo'Nique put in a jaw-dropping performance, and her final monologue is a gutsy move made by Daniels that raises more questions than it answers.

Up in the Air: Yes, this is one that's on a lot of top ten lists, and its tone of comedy mixed with anomie comes straight from the Academy playbook. But it's good. My favorite sequence was when George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick form their unlikely trio, learning from each other and crashing a party.

Food, Inc.: A well-researched complement to Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation, this documentary covered the food industry from moo to mouth and back again. I spouted "Did you know�?" to friends and families for weeks based on what I learned about the food industry. It's already out on DVD, calling out to me for a second viewing.

Why stop at top ten when there are a few films that deserve honorable mentions, but didn't make it into my rather loose list. An Education: The debut of Carey Mulligan with a fantastic performance from Rosamund Pike. Pike's glamorous and perfectly assembled look made her as attractive to adult-pining Mulligan as Peter Sarsgaard. The Cove: Environmental activism meets Ocean's 11, so controversial it had a hard time playing in Japan. And they're feeding dolphins to your children! The Young Victoria: a decidedly unstuffy costume drama and romance that should make Emily Blunt a star.

Monday, December 28, 2009

'Sherlock Holmes' no match for 'Avatar'

By Sarah Sluis

A record-breaking $278 million week at the box office was led by Avatar, with the rest of the top ten following closely behind with strong debut and holdover performances. The sci-fi spectacle's second Avatar zoe saldana 2 week was just as strong as its first, dropping a minuscule 2% from its opening weekend to earn $75 million. The movie posted its highest one-day gross the day after Christmas, when it earned $28.5 million, compared to the smaller $26.7 million sum it brought in its opening day. Unlike most other tentpoles, which are adaptations of successful books, series, or comic books, Avatar had to tough through a lower opening and wait for word-of-mouth to build up. In light of Avatar's success, perhaps other filmmakers besides James Cameron will be able to follow in his wake and develop tentpoles based on original ideas. Fox, however, won't have to take on much risk if it moves forward with a sequel or two: Cameron has mentioned that he has already mapped out a multi-movie arc for his characters.

Coming in second place for the weekend, action-detective movie Sherlock Holmes beat Avatar its opening day, Christmas, but dropped off over the weekend. The movie earned $65.3 million, about $10 million under Avatar's gross. While the movie's hero and his iconic pipe-smoking habit is more familiar to audiences, Avatar delivers on its premise much more than Sherlock Holmes, which lost points with me for its overuse of action movie conventions.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel came in third with $50.2 million. Because it opened on Wednesday, its total gross is already $77 million, which is far outpacing the first movie in the series, which opened to $44 million.

Writer/director Nancy Meyers' latest installment in the romantic comedy department, It's Complicated,It's complicated streep baldwin opened fourth with $22.1 million. Her last two films, The Holiday and Something's Gotta Give, both opened in the teens, so this marks her best opening since 2000's What Women Want, which debuted at $33 million.

Of the films placing fifth to tenth, all were returning films, and three of the five increased their grosses from the previous week. Up in the Air went from 175 to 1,895 theatres and earned $11.75 million, a 266% increase from the previous week. The Blind Side rose 17% to $11.73 million even as it shed over 600 theatres, further cementing its status as a surprise word-of-mouth hit. Nine, in eighth place, increased 2000% to $5.5 million as it went from four theatres to 1,412 theatres. In tenth place, Invictus, which only added 35 theatres to its 2,160-theatre release, inched up 4% from the previous week. The remaining two films in the top ten, The Princess and the Frog and Did You Hear About the Morgans?, dropped in the 20-30% range. In particular, The Princess and the Frog may be hurting from competition with the Chipmunks and Chipettes.

Now that all the big films of 2009 have been released, the first month of 2010 will measure their longevity. Competition from new releases will be minimal, but for awards films, it's a long haul to the Oscar ceremony, which was moved from February to March this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday movies to bring joy to end-of-year revelers

By Sarah Sluis

Moviegoing during the holidays is more than just a way to pass time off from school and work: it's a tradition. What better way to break up family tension than seeing a movie together--especially at a multiplex, where disagreeing groups can choose different movies? This year the usual mix of popcorn and awards fare will swoop into theatres tomorrow and again on Christmas Day, adding to the already The chipettes heaping offerings, including mega-budget Avatar.

Tomorrow, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel will roll out in 3,700 theatres. The original opened a couple weeks before Christmas to a $44 million weekend, and did big business through the holidays. With animated competitor The Princess and the Frog fading, and a media campaign that includes a hilarious chipmunk rendition of Beyonce's "Single Ladies," the comedy is sure to appeal to adults (perhaps the ones that create YouTube videos of their children dancing to the song).

The other big crowd pleaser is Sherlock Holmes, which targets a big chunk of Avatar's audience. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law play "action heroes in a tale stripped of modulations, intelligence Sherlock holmes jude law robert downey jr and finesse." Having seen the movie a few weeks ago, my memory of the film is not aging well. The action set pieces feel worn and unoriginal, including a cliched standoff on an unfinished bridge. Much of the set design is filled in with CG, and the movie lacks the satisfying details that fill out our understanding of Holmes' world and character. Nevertheless, marrying action sensibilities to a historical character will make Holmes and Watson fresh with no chance of being mistaken for "Masterpiece Theatre." The comic-action movie will draw action-hungry crowds when it debuts in 3,600 theatres.

Adult romantic comedy It's Complicated will open on the small side on Christmas Day, 2,800 It's complicated meryl streep theatres. The movie has received heavy media coverage, including a director profile in the New York Times Magazine

about making movies for women. With its erudite interest, the movie

could be a mainstream choice for audiences normally drawn to awards and

specialty fare.

The holiday season is also time for specialty releases to open wide to take advantage of the increased attendance. Awards favorite Up In the Air will expand to 1,800 theatres, and Nine to 1,500. Up in the Air has been steadily climbing in the rankings, breaking into the top ten for the past two weeks, so its expansion should lead to an uptick in its box office and ranking. Nine, only out for one week, will be more of a wild card. Will female audiences choose It's Complicated over Nine?

Also sneaking into the holiday schedule will be the debut of "cinematically sophisticated but slow-moving police procedural," Police, Adjective, in IFC theatres. The Young Victoria will expand to 134 theatres. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which features a performance from Heath Ledger, will also debut on Christmas Day. The Lovely Bones and A Single Man will also add theatres to their run. With a crowded slate of film delicacies, one hopes that people will have the time to sample more than one holiday offering.

Screener is off to drink some eggnog, so we'll see you back on December 28th with a recap of holiday box office performance.

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Avatar's' $73 million opening weekend puts pressure on week to come

By Sarah Sluis

Avatar faced snowstorms all along the East Coast its opening weekend, dampening its first returns. Still, the movie racked up $73 million, and should see high weekday returns for the next two weeks, Avatar gun worthington which many people have off. It was bested by 2007's December release I Am Legend, which brought in $77 million, but the two films' per-screen averages were neck and neck. Both earned $21,000 per screen, since I Am Legend had 700 more screens in its release. Still, since viewers were paying more to see the movie in 3D, Avatar's theatres were probably less full.

Given the positive word-of-mouth on the 3D adventure, Avatar should continue do well as word catches on. 3D has mainly been the realm of family movies, so many viewers may need quality reassurance from their friends before they don the glasses themselves. Overseas, the movie earned $159 million worldwide, where director James Cameron's famous tin ear for dialogue is lost in translation. While most movies end up with half their gross from overseas, Avatar currently has 70% of its gross from outside North America, making hiccups like East Coast snowstorms less significant.

The other wide release of the week, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, underperformed slightly, earning $7 million. Some of those moviegoers undoubtedly chose The Blind Side instead, which finished a spot ahead with $10 million.

The biggest mover in the rest of the top ten was Up in the Air, which gained three spots when it more than doubled the theatres in its release. Playing in 175 theatres, it earned $3.1 million. Its per-screen average of $17,000 was the best of any returning film.

Golden Globe contenders Nine, Crazy Heart, and The Young Victoria debuted this week. Nine had theThe young victoria emily blunt best per-screen average, $61,000, and a four-screen release. Crazy Heart came in second with a $21,000 per-screen average, also at four locations. The Young Victoria had a different strategy, releasing in twenty locations, which brought its per-screen average down to $7,000. It made more money than Crazy Heart, however, due to the size of its release.

In just two days, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel will open, followed by Sherlock Holmes and It's Complicated on Christmas Day. 'Tis the season.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oh Avatar, oh Avatar, lead audiences to Pandora

By Sarah Sluis

Leading the pack this week is Avatar (3,300 theatres), a blockbuster that delivers on its promise to Avatar wow you. Even if you come into the theatre a little bit of a disbeliever, you will walk out thrilled and satisfied in a way you haven't been for a long time. Director James Cameron uses his state-of-the-art technology to create a movie that critic Ethan Alter called "the ultimate pulp sci-fi novel." It's also a take-off of the Pocahontas tale. Cameron first wows you with the technical achievements of the year 2154--portable computer tablets, futuristic 'copters, and coffin-like "link stations"--before turning your attention to the Na'vi, who display a similarly detailed, technical mastery over the natural world instead of the mechanical world. Add in romance and some spectacular battle scenes, and Fox should have its end-of-year blockbuster.

Providing some counterprogramming for women, Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2,700 theatres) is a by-the-book romantic comedy with some mild laughs. Inoffensive and pleasing through its Sarah jessica parker hugh grant morgans duration, the movie is expected to draw in females not enticed by Avatar. Fans of "Sex and the City" will be pleased to see a continuation of that persona in Parker's character, who loves all things New York City, to the predictably comic extremes.

Crazy Heart (4 theatres) also makes its limited debut this weekend. "Although the film offers the [lead] character a too-glib redemption (and no-fuss rehab) before sending him off into a feel-good sunset," critic Rex Roberts feels it nevertheless deserves recognition. Indeed, this week the country music drama earned two nominations at the Golden Globes: Best Actor for Jeff Bridges and Best Original Song. Bridges has been nominated for four Oscars (though, surprise, not for his role in the comedy The Big Lebowski), so the Academy may deem it time to reward ones of its perennial nominees-- one with "an uncanny ability to make pot-bellied rogues curiously sexy."

Nine (4 theatres) parades into theatres after receiving decidedly mixed reviews filled with many of the caveats that are unique to the difficult musical category. Despite running at 32% on Rotten Tomatoes, Nine women the Broadway adaptation received five nominations for the Golden Globes earlier this week. Our critic David Noh marveled at the non-misogynistic treatment of women in a story centered around a man and the many women who matter to him. "Marshall clearly adores women," Noh writes, "and he glorifies each carefully cast lady in his film in a way not seen since the Hollywood studio glory days."

Avatar should finish in the 50, 60, 70 million range (Fox is trying to underplay expectations) and play strongly through the next two weeks, when many people are on holiday from work and school. Did You Hear About the Morgans? should be light competition, and could suffer from the strong showing of The Blind Side, which has a lot of word-of-mouth momentum. Avatar needs a strong opening weekend to stave off the competition ahead. Next week, the sci-fi movie will go head-to-head with Sherlock Holmes, It's Complicated will try to woo away the female audience, and let's not forget the allure of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie-related Twitters more bark than bite

By Sarah Sluis

Twitter has been this year's media darling, especially among influencers like media personalities, celebrities, and journalists. But the 140-character updates on whereabouts, opinions, and random Twitter thoughts haven't really changed how people choose what movies to see.

A recent survey of customers who had just bought tickets online and were Twitter users revealed a modest effect. When asked, "Did Twitter affect your desire to see any of the following films in the past year?," New Moon ranked highest, with 52% responding yes.

According to Joel Cohen, VP of, Twitter added to the buzz of the New Moon campaign. The studio would release a new trailer, posters, or clips every few weeks, encouraging the Internet community to weigh in on the new information. "Twitter gives people the ability to share what they think, and let it spread quickly," he explained.

However, the second film on the list received half the amount of "yes" votes. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen earned just 23% of the vote. The much-hyped Bruno, which many said was felled by negative Twitter buzz? Only 8% said it influenced their desire to see the film one way or the other. Twitter, it turns out, has a fairly limited impact on box office, a view shared by Cohen. "I don't think you're going to have a change in moviegoing if people read something on Twitter that is the opposite of what they were going to do anyway or what they were feeling already." Instead, it reflects the general consensus of whether a film is "good" or "bad."

Cohen also gave Screener a sneak peak at how Avatar is doing. So far, 78% of the buyers have been male. The vast majority of ticket buyers fall into the over 25 range--though all this information reflects Avatar Zoe Saldana the people taking initiative and punching in their credit card numbers, and not any additional tickets they may have bought for friends, significant others, and children.

Over 90% of the tickets have been purchased for 3D screenings. "This will be the first time a lot of adults have seen 3D," Cohen explained, since most 3D titles have been animated films. Their embrace of the medium, sight unseen, bodes well for Avatar, especially given the premium prices on 3D and IMAX tickets.

However, the mega-budget tentpole hasn't even cracked their top ten of bestsellers, despite a lead time of over four months (tickets went on sale in August). "It just doesn't have the built-in fan base we see in a lot films in our top ten," Cohen explained, which include literary properties like Harry Potter and Twilight.

When Avatar hits theatres tomorrow, the Twitterati should not be feared. They're just another form of word-of-mouth--available to all the eyes on the Internet but mattering to very few.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Golden Globe nominations a mixed bag for female directors

By Sarah Sluis

Today the Golden Globe Nominations were announced, and, as usual, there weren't quite enough nominations to cover all the great performances (in particular, Nicolas Cage's crazy-amazing performance in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans). Inspired by New York Times critic Manohla Kathryn bigelow the hurt locker Dargis' recentdocumentation of the lack of female directors in Hollywood, particularly for studio films, I also decided to tally up the nominations for female-directed movies. Results and analysis follow.

The Takeaways

* Golden Globes reward more female directors, but this is because its picture and acting nominations are genre-specific: "Best Drama" and "Best Comedy/Musical." More females direct in the latter category, allowing them to rack up more nominations. When it comes to the Oscars, however, the majority of the nominees usually come from the more prestigious "Drama" category.

*Of the twenty films nominated for a form of Best Picture (Drama, Comedy/Musical, Animated, Foreign Language), three were directed by a female. Kathryn Bigelow recieved a nomination in the Drama category, and Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers were nominated in the Comedy/Musical category. This is slightly higher than the 60 females out of 600 directors (10%) that Dargis figured for 2009, but given the small sample size, this isn't significant.

*Zero of the ten "Best Actor" nominees were directed by females. Four of the ten "Best Actor" nominees were directed by females, including two directors not nominated in the "Best Picture" categories. Sandra Bullock was nominated for her performance in Anne Fletcher's The Proposal and Carey Mulligan for Lone Scherfig's An Education. This correlation is difficult to judge, but it could reflect a well-known Hollywood bias that female directors are only offered women's films.

*One female, Kathryn Bigelow, was nominated for "Best Director." She's running against her ex-husband, James Cameron (Avatar).

Bigelow, the sole director to receive a nomination for "Best Director," was highlighted by Dargis as an example of Hollywood's unequal treatment of female directors. Before Hurt Locker, she hadn't directed a film since 2002.

Dargis compares her to director Michael Mann, who was in a similar

standing to her at the time. Both directed films (Ali and K19: The Widowmaker, respectively) in the early aughts that underperformed.

Dargis writes, "What

did a $22 million difference in box office mean for the directors

of "Ali" and "K-19"? Well, Ms. Bigelow didn't direct another feature

until 2007, when she began "The Hurt Locker," a thriller about a bomb

squad in Iraq that was bankrolled by a French company and is said to

cost under $20 million." Mann, by comparison,

directed three big-budget movies, and produced several more--all a mix

of hits (Collateral) and misses (Miami Vice). She goes on to say,


imagine there are a host of reasons why Mr. Mann has been able to

persuade executives to keep writing such large checks. He's a dazzling

innovator, and big stars keep flocking to his side, despite his

reputation for difficulty. But Ms. Bigelow is one of the greatest

action directors working today, and it's hard not to wonder why failure

at the box office doesn't translate the same for the two sexes."

Dargis seems to have drawn the conclusion that women are held to higher standards than men, and have to be that much better in this position in order to succeed.

The other key to equality in film direction is making projects open to both

male and female directors. Lee Daniels directed a great film (Precious) with a female cast, just as Kathryn Bigelow has distinguished herself for her "testosterone" action film. Besides Bigelow, Scherfig (An Education) and Jane Campion (Bright Star) have been mentioned as the standout directors of the year, but their films' lack of nominations could push them out of the running. Bigelow's nomination for The Hurt Locker makes her chance of being nominated for Best Director at the Oscars that much more likely.

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Princess and the Frog' reigns over the box office

By Sarah Sluis

Opening precisely in line with expectations, The Princess and the Frog earned $25 million in its first week in wide release. The movie skewed towards females and those under 25. Although this is The princess and the frog voodoo Disney's first movie with a black princess, the studio said they didn't track ethnicity in its polls, perhaps because they didn't want this film's performance to be gauged according to its appeal among black audiences.

The Blind Side had another stellar weekend, dropping a slim 22% to earn another $15.4 million. The modestly budgeted movie has brought in over $150 million, making it an end-of-year success story.

The other movie trying to marry sports to a more weighty subject, Invictus, opened to just $9 million. Two of Clint Eastwood's recent directorial projects, Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby, used long Invictus handshake platform releases, making comparison difficult. Changeling, however, opened in a small number of theatres before expanding to a $9 million weekend. Its cumulative gross? $35 million. A similar fate may be in store for Invictus, but its superior reviews to Changeling (77% on Rotten Tomatoes to Changeling's 61%) could push it above the 2008 film's total.

Weinstein Co.'s A Single Man debuted in 9 theatres to a per-screen average of $24,000. The Lovely Bones, on four screens, had a per-screen average of $38,600, but its cumulative gross was $116,000 to A Single Man's $216,000. Each came from a different corner of the film marketplace. A Single Man is a recent festival acquisition that went straight from its September premiere in Toronto to theatres this December. It's a quiet film that has generated substantial praise from critics. The Lovely Bones was a big-budget adaptation, but the movie's most expensive parts--the CGI sequences--have been greeted with noses wrinkled in disgust. Rolling Stone compared Jackson's heaven to a Claritin commercial. This movie ranks among my biggest disappointments this year, but its solid opening bodes well for its box office.

Up in the Air nudged closer to the top ten this weekend, adding 57 theatres for a 72-theatre run. It earned $2.4 million and an impressive $34,000 per screen. The layoff-centered comedy has been accruing a sizable amount of nominations and awards. From my perspective, it's a shoo-in for one of the ten Best Picture nods.

This Friday, all eyes will be on Avatar's premiere, with romantic comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? providing some counter-programming. Nine and Crazy Heart will also make their debut on select screens.

Friday, December 11, 2009

'The Princess and the Frog' to charm its way to box-office crown

By Sarah Sluis

South Africa and the Bayou will take center stage this weekend, as Invictus and The Princess and the Frog roll out in wide release.

The Princess and the Frog (3,434 theatres) is the Disney machine at its nostalgic finest--which Princess and the frog disney noni includes incredible attention to detail, especially when it comes to possible revenue streams. For the past two and a half weeks, the movie has racked up $2.7 million by creating a full-fledged event involving character meet-and-greets, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and the opportunity to stock up on Princess-related merchandising--all for $50 per head. Only Disney could pull together its filmmaking, theme park, and merchandising experience so well. The movie itself should make a killing, especially since many of those who grew up on Beauty and the Beast are now parents themselves. It's expected to open around $25 million, but the strength of its reviews, including an 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, could give families that extra push to see it in theatres.

Invictus (2,125 theatres) is expected to open modestly but keep up its pace for many weeks ahead. Positive reviews, along with a 76% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, should reward the historical Invctus duo drama at the box office as well as the Oscars, though the first category, in this case, is a little more tricky. Our critic Daniel Eagan praised the film as "one of the most mature and satisfying releases of the year," but cautioned that its "challenging subject matter and a crowded holiday marketplace" could see it end up more like Million Dollar Baby than Gran Torino.

The Lovely Bones will roll out in three theatres before expanding over Christmas and then again in mid-January. I posted my scathing assessment of the film yesterday, joining the critical chorus of dissent. According to executive editor Kevin Lally, director Peter Jackson's "expensive production and dazzling visual effects aren't the ideal fit for [author Alice] Sebold's delicate, poignant tale," and the "admittedly impressive but overdone fantasy panoramas" take away the "heart and soul" of the novel. While many of those who read the book will turn out for the movie, they will rank among the most disappointed. By delaying a wide open until early January, however, the movie may be able to take advantage of being a film of its relative quality amidst the January slush.

Fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford makes his debut with A Single Man, a quiet, expressive A single man colin firth film about mourning. Colin Firth plays a closeted gay professor left alone when his partner dies in a car accident. With no one to mourn with, and few understanding the depth of his despair, he goes through a defining day of odd encounters and personal evaluation. Ford's presence is seen in the attentive costuming, changing color palette, and set design, which manages to add something new to the way most movies portray the 1960s (a glimpse of some black-wearing 60s college-age Goths, for example). The movie opens in nine theatres and should set audiences abuzz.

On Monday, The Princess and the Frog will know the expanse of her reign, Invictus will battle for opening weekend dollars, and holdovers The Blind Side and New Moon will prepare for a dip after three weeks at the top.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weighing in on 'The Lovely Bones'

By Sarah Sluis

Many of the people turning out to see The Lovely Bones on Friday will have read Alice Sebold's haunting book. Told from the perspective of a dead girl, Susie Salmon, after she is raped and The lovely bones saorsie murdered, the book brought insight into the aftereffects of such a misunderstood and shrouded crime. Profoundly nuanced, its shaded morality gave its characters emotionally complex reactions to the tragedy.

After reading Alice Sebold's memoir of her own brutal rape, Lucky, I felt I understood The Lovely Bones even more: being a victim of such a terrible crime leads you to experience events as though they are outside yourself. You can easily lose a sense of agency. Instead, you often feel as though you are watching things happen from above. Susie narrating the events going on in her family from heaven is not much different than how she might have experienced life had she been raped but not murdered.

Sadly, much of this is lost in Peter Jackson's interpretation of The Lovely Bones, which completely misses the tone of the book. Most grating is his vision of heaven. He seems more interested in giving his special-effects company a lot of work than motivating the move to fantasy. The surroundings, rich and lush and detailed, stick out from the rest of the movie.Saorsie ronan lovely bones

Many people have praised the performances in the movie (and I agree with the assessment that Stanley Tucci has a standout role), but some lines sounded really, really bad and misdelivered to my ears. I saw the actor instead of the character. I suspected part of this was related to the tone. When you're trying to make something wispy and ephemeral, and fail, it can lead to dialogue that feels quite odd.

Finally, there's the rape and murder scene. Given that a child is involved, and the movie's PG-13 rating, it's not surprising that this vicious act is omitted. But instead, Jackson moves quickly from the terror of anticipation to a confusing scene where at first she's actually fleeing, and then she's fleeing in her mind, before finally pausing for a brief moment when she realizes what's happened to her. It missed the mark for me, to the point where I was sitting in the movie theatre in disbelief about how the movie was skipping over one of the most painful, but necessary, moments of the story. What I really wanted was a still moment where the audience was forced to dwell on what was happening. Though I already thought the tone was messed up by then, this really sealed it for me.

This omission will be a comfort to some, and for others it may be all they need to conjure up enough horror. Hollywood Elsewhere, for example was happy with the decision, explaining "I really, really didn't want to go there, even glancingly," and liked Jackson's "decision to show her escaping from her own death, running away from something that has happened but is so horrible that she instantly imagines or wills herself into a fantasy-escape mode." For me, it was not enough to carry through the rest of the movie. In the book, the rape and murder is always on your mind, and it's always on the characters' minds. I didn't feel that way watching the movie.

Given the subject matter, this is the kind of movie that people will see only if motivated by must-see reviews touting its artistic merit. Not many people want to be subjected to a Schindler's List if critics are coming out calling it "so-so." By comparison, Precious has garnered glowing reviews. It, too, shows the rape of a child (much more graphically) and her escaping to a fantasy world. Compared to the elaborate world created by Jackson, her escapist moments are downright spare, but the movie works by keeping us grounded in Precious' dismal reality. Translating Alice Sebold's prose to film, which requires depicting these events on-screen instead of in one's head, is a tall order, so it's not a huge surprise that Jackson didn't succeed. Those that have read the book should skip it or go in with managed expectations.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

'The Blind Side' pays it forward with more do-gooder tales

By Sarah Sluis

One way to measure The Blind Side's success is to keep track of the projects that try to emulate it. Today, two such projects cropped up.

Method #1: Substitute one downbeat character for another. Make sure they actually exist. Instead The blind side of an illiterate, homeless teenager, Alcon Entertainment, which produced The Blind Side, decided to follow up with the story of a tail-less dolphin. After losing its appendage in a crab trap, it is taken in by an aquarium and given a prosthetic tail. Lest audiences protest all the misfortunes suffered by the dolphin, this tail-less Flipper actually swims around in a Florida aquarium. The punning title? A Dolphin's Tale. While this treacly story is a nice counterpoint to the morning coffee (the story first appeared on the "Today" show), I'll take The Cove any day.

Method #2: Keep the Christian do-gooder. Keep the football-playing black kid, but multiply him into a team of jailed criminals. "Prison Break" actor Lane Garrison is penning the screenplay One Heart, which is being billed as take-off of The Blind Side. It's the story of a losing football team populated by juvenile offenders attending Texas' Gainesville State School. When they play against private Faith Christian School, the coach enlists community members to cheer for the other team (though they still lose, just not as badly). Whether this project receives financing or not, however, depends on how forgiving people are of Garrison. He just served an eighteen-month prison sentence for driving while under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. One of his passengers died and two were injured when he crashed into a tree. In fact, his move from acting to writing (his first) may be more a play to repair his reputation and artistically atone for his misdeeds. Whatever the reason, it's all a sign of The Blind Side's success at the box office. With the film wielding so much influence, I may just have to see it myself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Studios rattle the DVD windows

By Sarah Sluis

How long should a movie be out of the picture between its theatrical run and its DVD debut?

When I was growing up, that time period between theatrical release and home video release could be agonizing. Some movies were "must-sees" in theatres, and others I could wait to rent at the video Family-watching-movie-lg store, but a lot of them fell in between. I frequently missed seeing a movie in a theatre, because there were simply too many other good films out or I didn't have enough time (I also had a thing against seeing a movie once it had been out for months--you might as well just wait to see it at home).

Now, this same theatrical window that vexed me as a child is causing exhibitors and studios to draw their swords once again. While exhibitors want to maintain a long window to preserve the

sacredness of theatrical release, studios want to make money on the

pent-up demand caused by a film going dark--being unavailable in

theatres or on DVD--for a few months. A month ago, Sony's decision to make the film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs available earlier for those that bought a special Sony television led exhibitors to pull the film from their theatres. Even as studios are trying to release films on DVD earlier, they're also fighting RedBox, which rents new releases for $1. They're in the odd position of trying to break new ground in one area and preserve the status quo in another.

Most of the studios' home-grown proposals for shorter windows involve charging a premium for the privilege of seeing a movie in this "in-between" time--up to $50 for in-home viewing. I don't buy that this will work. I personally would never see a film for such a high price tag, not even if I were one of the targeted demographics, living in a "geographically isolated" area with an expansive brethren and laid out with a bad back. The stereotype in my head of the perfect family for this proposal, The Duggar Family_movie_night_pm-thumb-270x270 Family of TLC's "18 Kids and Counting", would never spring for a $50 rental, even though it would cost them $200 to go to a movie theatre. This is the same family that has a recipe for discount laundry detergent on their website. I think theatres are overestimating the value of their product, especially in a market saturated with media choices (why not just surf Hulu for free?). Plus, going to a theatre has a unique value of its own: there are fewer distractions, a bigger image, and the enjoyment of seeing a picture with an audience, to name a few reasons. While seeing a film at home shortly after its theatrical release may present a value for large groups, the only thing justifying the price point is being able to see a movie in sync with its water cooler hype. You still miss out on the fun of going out to the movies.

The fight on both ends is far from over. Just today, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., which receives donations from film studios, released a study that was proposed by an "unnamed" guild, saying that cheap DVD rentals will cost the region thousands of jobs. While the special interests close to the study make its findings suspect, it shows how seriously film studios are taking this threat, and the lengths that they will go to fight it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

'The Blind Side' goes to #1 its third time around

By Sarah Sluis

Borrowing the ascendancy story in its plot, The Blind Side made an unusual jump to #1 in its third week at the box office, earning $20.4 million. Uplifting and family-friendly, the story of a Christian The blind side sandra bullock Southerner who

took in a lost soul and turned him into an NFL superstar is the

heartland special, with a broader audience than New Moon. The teenage romance and The Blind Side have been coming in at 1-2 since the week before Thanksgiving, but the heavy 63% drop suffered by New Moon allowed the family-friendly drama to rise to the top. The movie's positive reception has drawn attention to Sandra Bullock, who has been discussed as an awards contender for Best Actress.

Among new movies, Brothers placed strongest. Debuting at #3 with $9.7 million, the war drama/romance received positive, but not glowing reviews. For a film trying to place itself within the critical bracket, it may have been hurt by failing to receive much "must-see in 2009" interest.Brothers

Up in the Air, which has received that "must-see" buzz, opened in just 15 locations and went on to earn $1.1 million, an auspicious start for a movie that will open wide over Christmas. I put it in the category of films that families of adults would enjoy together, or a couple of friends, but it will have a lot of competition to contend with in that category, from populist actioner Sherlock Holmes to adult romance It's Complicated.

Miramax's final release as a standalone company, Everybody's Fine, earned $4 million and the last spot in the top ten. The movie's lackluster performance can be attributed to mixed reviews and the state of its distributor--most of the staff has been laid off and are perhaps not so willing to declare disingenuously protest that "Everything's fine."

Armored matt dillon laurence fishburne Of the new genre movies, Armored fared well, earning $6.6 million with its story of armored truck drivers who dip into their cargo. Transylmania, however, fared far, far worse. It earned $272 per location in its 1,000-screen debut, likely angering exhibitors who gave up screens that could have turned a much bigger profit. Hopefully the ticket-buyers bought popcorn.

Most of the returning films had a difficult time maintaining their audiences in the wake of so many new films, dropping 50-60%. Precious fell out of the top ten, falling 67% to $2.3 million in its third week in the 600-theatre range. Will expansion be the answer to maintaining box office?

This Friday, The Princess and the Frog will expand to wide release. The 2D film has been making a killing at the box office in limited release. This past weekend it added another $744,000 to its coffers from just two locations. It will be joined by Clint Eastwood's latest, Invictus, as well as Peter Jackson's literary adaptation The Lovely Bones. To round things out, the critically lauded A Single Man will roll out in seven theatres nationwide.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Adult family dramas take center stage with 'Brothers,' 'Everybody's Fine'

By Sarah Sluis

Despite all the new offerings this weekend, New Moon and The Blind Side are expected to hold the top spots. But that doesn't mean the rest of the films won't fight for their spots as we head into the competitive holiday season.

Brothers natalie portman Brothers (2,088 theatres), a love triangle with a wartime focus, is poised to capture a younger version of The Blind Side's audience. It's showing strong interest among young females under 25 that idolize stars Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire. The war angle may help draw in their male companions, just as The Blind Side shared its tale of compassion with a male-friendly sports angle.

Everybody's Fine (2,133 theatres) is a quiet Everybodys fine barrymore de niro film that needs to make some noise. However, with its distributor, Miramax, crumbling back into Disney, and a Robert DeNiro considerably calmer than his gruff Meet the Parents persona, this movie is Most Likely to Get Lost in a Crowd. Still, this movie presents its offerings quite well, despite being "dramatically a bit thin," according to Executive Editor Kevin Lally.

Up in the Air won Best Picture from the National Board of Review yesterday, an auspicious way to start its run in ten theatres. George Clooney plays a jet-setting corporate downsizer (he fires other people's employees for a living) but Up in the air clooney somehow director Jason Reitman manages to make this plotline fit into our current recession economy. Not since Jerry Maguire waved to his ex while on a moving walkway has the mix of blas glamour and isolation in airport travel been captured so well.

Rounding out the week's releases are the standard action and horror offerings. Armored (1,915 theatres) is about the ultimate inside job: the drivers of armored trucks helping themselves to the stacks of money in cargo. Transylmania (1,005 theatres) is a horror spoof that should appeal to a younger crowd. Unlike the more gruesome Hostel, this movie is about a group of students spending a semester abroad who discover their university is infested with vampires.

On Monday, we'll check back to see if Up in the Air's box office is as winning as its Best Picture award, if Everybody's Fine was able to raise itself above a whisper, and if Brothers can stand up to The Blind Side.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anderson signs up Hoffman to play 'The Master'

By Sarah Sluis

That other young Anderson director, Paul Thomas Anderson, has revealed details about his next project, as well as his star: Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Philip seymour hoffman Hoffman will play The Master (which may end up being the title of the film), a charismatic person who starts a spiritual organization that quickly gathers followers and turns into a religion itself. It's told through a relationship between the Master and his mentor, Freddie, who is increasingly skeptical of the whole project.

While so far it's being billed as entirely fictional, and explicitly stated as not inspired by Scientology or Mormonism, the Vulture Blog noted that the drama is set in 1952, the same year Scientology was founded. That makes the statement "the scrutiny isn't specifically directed toward faith-based movements like Scientology or Mormonism" sound like a preemptive defense against Scientology and its practitioners, many of whom are prominent in the Hollywood community. Case in point? When "South Park" broadcast its famous "Trapped in the Closet" episode parodying Scientology, a Scientologist cast member quit the show. A rebroadcast was canceled, leading to media reports that Tom Cruise, another Scientologist, had P T Anderson allegedly threatened to back out of his publicity obligations for Mission Impossible 3 (both were owned by parent company Viacom) if his demand was not met. He later denied the claims. And that was a television show. If Anderson's work draws the ire of Scientologists, it might have a rough time getting made in Hollywood. However, if the project is distancing itself from Scientology, it would seem wise for the religion to follow suit, rather than open itself up to any religious criticism in the script.

Potential Scientology controversy aside, the pairing of Hoffman and Anderson is the best thing this project has going for it. Hoffman has appeared in virtually all of Anderson's movies, though not in a leading role. He's also an old hand at religious leader parts, playing a priest in Doubt and a reverend in Cold Mountain. Besides ensemble-piece Magnolia, Anderson has a record of giving meaty, stand-out roles to his leading men (Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights). Hoffman's an unforgettable actor (and I once spied him at an ATM in the West Village on my way to work!) and this is just the kind of role that could add another Oscar to his bookshelf.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Slow but steady future for 3D films, says PricewaterhouseCoopers

By Sarah Sluis

The move to 3D, in terms of film history, should play out more like color than sound. All films transitioned from silent to sound in a snap--just a few years. To not convert was to become a box-office failure. But color, like 3D, was reserved for specific genres, like historical epics, fantasy, and children's movies, before becoming more widespread. I took a few of PricewaterhouseCoopers' predictions on the future of 3D movies and gave my own take on how it will all play out.

Up-movie "Most 3D live-action production will be limited to sci-fi, horror and concert genres" Yes, but this is changing. Avatar is sci-fi, but it's also a tentpole, an awards hopeful, a James Cameron movie and an action/environmental/romance movie. As films with multiple genre identities are made in 3D, it will become easier for those "romance/action/comedy" movies to be made. Just today, Variety announced that the sequel to Zombieland, a horror/comedy will be filmed in 3D. The next Jackass sequel, a documentary/action/comedy, will be made in 3D. With its emphasis on live, improv events, Jackass is a cousin of the concert film, a popular choice for 3D, but certainty not part of the genre itself.

"3D-animated slates at Disney and DreamWorks will be closely scrutinized by rivals." Maybe. As far as I'm concerned, animation is already a lock for 3D. Animation is a medium grounded in fantasy, not reality, making 3D a very natural variation. I would worry if these animation studios decided to make a movie in 2D, which would indicate a slipping in 3D's profitability. As it stands, both Pixar and DreamWorks Animation are committed to producing all their upcoming films in 3D.

"Slow growth through 2014...because of lingering budgetary and creative concerns" You can look at this from the production side, but the audience side is just as important. A lot of people are resistant to seeing 3D movies because of their stereotype as a gimmicky concept that takes away from the Reald glasses narrative. That's not the case. As a former skeptic myself, watching movies like Coraline, Up, and even The Jonas Brothers 3D Concert Experience "glasses on" made those movies better. In the case of concert movies, 3D helps amp up the spectacle and gives a heightened sense of reality. No, you don't actually feel like you're there, but the dimensionality gives you a sense of the landscape, and the camera movements always make sure you have the best seat in the house. Up, compared to Coraline or Monsters vs. Aliens, uses very restrained 3D. The filmmakers either didn't author it in 3D from start to finish, but added it in later, or they chose to avoid having the images pop up and behind in a striking (and perhaps detracting) way. Takeaway point: 3D is flexible. It's not always about making you think something is coming right at you, but subtly adding depth of field. If 3D is adopted by dramas, comedies, and romances, I suspect this restrained look will be the norm. Regardless, watching a film with glasses is on its way to becoming a normal part of the moviegoing experience.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No one wants 'New Moon' to end

By Sarah Sluis

The success of New Moon has brought the Twilight franchise to a whole new level. Among franchises, there are the ones that do better the second time around (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and then New moon bella edward touch there are the ones that do worse. By amassing a two-week total that exceeds the gross of the first film, New Moon is firmly among the franchise winners. Predictably, Summit is trying to stretch out the amount of Twilight movies it can make, and supernatural romances are in hot demand.

Today, for example, Warner Bros. picked up a series of five books in the "supernatural romance" category--the first one was just released today. Richard LaGravanese (writer/director of P.S. I Love You) is set to write and direct the first in the series, entitled Beautiful Creatures. An extension of Harry Potter and Twilight, the novel is told from the perspective of a popular high school boy in the South who secretly wants to get out of his small town. He has dreams of a girl, who suddenly arrives as a transfer student. They go through all the usual motions of falling in love, but she is the heir to a terrible family curse (not revealed in synopses) that gets in the way of their love. It sounds like a winning plot, but the success of Twilight and Harry Potter over, say, The Golden Compass has to do with fanbase. Is this project going to remain in a holding pattern until it ignites among young adult audiences? Or will it be moved swiftly into production before (or even if) the series turns into a phenomenon?

The other news on the supernatural romance front is Summit's proposal to extend the success of the Twilight series by splitting Breaking Dawn, the 756-page finale to the series, into two Bella jacob new moon movies. That would bring the total amount of movies to five. It's an expensive move that will require raises among cast and crew (the Harry Potter series went through the same series of renegotiations), but the payoff could be big. Summit has already made a smart move by releasing the movies in quick succession. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse will come out not next Thanksgiving but this summer (June 30th). While the Twilight series, like the Harry Potter series, is strong enough to bring in new fans as older ones age out of the series, holding onto an audience is always a concern. Teen girls are only teen girls for so long. I've heard of kids who were into Star Wars but lost interest by the time the third film was released. As for myself, after seeing the first five Harry Potter movies on opening day, I missed the sixth one in theatres (though I'm anxiously awaiting its DVD release). It just wasn't as much of a priority anymore. Summit will be counting on the "Twihards" to retain their fanaticism for at least a few more years.

Monday, November 30, 2009

'New Moon' and 'Blind Side' gobble up a second helping

By Sarah Sluis

For the second week in a row, The Twilight Saga: New Moon took the top spot at the box office. Through the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, it earned $65.9 million, bringing its total gross to $230 Twilight new moon looking million. The two-week total exceeds that of the entire run of the first Twilight movie, which never passed the $200 million mark. The blockbuster success of a franchise targeted almost exclusively to young teen girls should change the film landscape for years to come. Studios should be scurrying to replicate its success, especially given the comparative lack of female-driven blockbusters (Sex and the City and the slightly broader Mamma Mia! notwithstanding)

In second place, The Blind Side grabbed $40 million over the holiday weekend and even beat New Moon on Thanksgiving day because of its broader, family appeal. Many have compared the movie to Precious, but its heartwarming flavor is more reminiscent of last year's Christmas hit Marley & Me.

Old Dogs had a softer Thanksgiving open than a similar Disney comedy, Wild Hogs, opening at $24 million to Wild Hogs' $40 million. The first movie opened in a less competitive March timeslot, making Old dogs the movie a bit of a scheduling victim, lost among the more appealing side dishes. The other male-oriented film, Ninja Assassin, opened two spots lower at $13.1 million.

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, A Christmas Carol was there to reap the seasonal cheer. The performance-capture tale went up 30% from last week, and 80% including the five-day weekend.

On the horizon, The Princess and the Frog had a promising debut in limited release, bringing in $1.1 million from just two screens thanks to high ticket prices because of a tie-in to character meet-and-greets and behind-the-scenes looks at the movie. When it opens wide on December 11th, girls who have grown up on the Disney "Princesses" merchandising line will have a chance to add another heroine to their princess collection.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, a rather different sort of children's movie, brought in $9.4 million over the five-day weekend. A quarter of the audience was under 19, suggesting the movie has greater appeal among adults and Wes Anderson fans.

The bleak The Road opened in the last spot in the top ten, earning $2 million from 111 theatres. The road Delayed for over a year, the movie has finally seen the light...but not much green. Unlike the last Cormac McCarthy book to be made into a movie, No Country For Old Men, this one will do considerably lighter business.

The next few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's will see a whole slate of quality, Academy-worthy films released and crowd-pleasing blockbusters (I can vouch for Up in the Air, but I'm still waiting to see Avatar like everyone else). Time to ring in the holiday season with some popcorn and egg nog.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'New Moon' to bring fangirls to the box office

By Sarah Sluis

The Twilight Saga: New Moon will open in over 4,000 theatres at midnight, 600 more screens than the first Twilight. reported that over 2,150 screenings of the vampire romance have sold New moon angst out, and the film has surpassed franchise films like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter to become their #1 advance seller of all time. The reviews are coming in, but it's doubtful the fan base will even care. This movie is all about reliving the book with the added visuals of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, and the swoons and shrieks of your friends and fellow audience members. Plus, the sequel combines Vampire-mania with Werewolf-mania, throwing heroine Bella into a love triangle between the two man-creatures.

The Blind Side, which many have called Precious with a white, Republican savior (and thus appealing to that demographic) will open in 3,100 theatres. Sandra Bullock is in top form, but critic Michael Rechtshaffen wished that "Oher [the black homeless teen Bullock's character and her The blind side storytime husband took in] had been presented as something other than essentially a large prop." Further separating itself from a movie like Precious, The Blind Side sticks to "proven inspirational sports-movie/fish-out-of-water

formulas while holding the inherent sociological issues to the

sidelines," despite the fact that "there also was room for more thought-provoking substance."

Planet 51 (2,600 theatres), a kind of E.T. in reverse, revolves around an astronaut who has landed in a suburban alien town. Grade-school joke: they think he's the one who's funny looking. The "Sci-Fi Lite" movie, according to critic Kirk Honeycutt, has "gentle jokes and cornball battles," and is geared more towards children than the adult-children mix more frequently seen in today's animated movies.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans opens in 27 theatres, and if you are near one--you need to Bad lieutenant nic cage see it. Genre-wise, it's a story of a corrupt cop (Nicolas Cage) in love with a prostitute (Eva Mendes), but director Werner Herzog takes this story places you have never even imagined. The screening I was in prompted several moments where everyone broke out in shocked laughter--whether it was because Cage was so outrageously bad, mad-scientist crazy, or because the movie did things you just aren't supposed to do on film, including alligator point-of-view shots.

Also moving into theatres on Friday is Red Cliff. Directed by John Woo, the American version compresses the two-film arc into one historical epic critic Daniel Eagan called "teeming with characters and plot twists," but "told in such a direct and vigorous style that it is never confusing."

New Moon is the hands-down winner for this weekend, but its narrower fan base is always a liability. Everyone will be watching to see how much the film drops Saturday and Sunday after its Friday open. Precious and Fantastic Mr. Fox will be expanding this runs, and Planet 51 needs to bring in audiences before The Princess and the Frog opens over Thanksgiving (though, thankfully, in a limited run).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Winnie' and 'Selma' to highlight black history

By Sarah Sluis

With Precious and Invictus, come Selma and Winnie.

Now that Lee Daniels' Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire is steaming ahead and Martin_Luther_King_22391g showing all signs of being a breakout hit, the director has lined up his next project. He is in final negotiations to direct Selma, which is based on three civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965. After three attempts (the first dubbed "Bloody Sunday" for its violent police action), demonstrators finally marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The five-day march, in support of black voting rights, is considered the apex of the civil rights movement.

The project has a lot going for it. Paul Webb, who wrote the script for Steven Spielberg's long-gestating Lincoln, penned Selma. While it Selma has no cast, the movie already has a production start date set for this spring. Finally, Christian Colson, who produced big winner Slumdog Millionaire, will be heading up production. With a producer, director, and solid screenplay, this movie only needs a cast (which certainly will flock to the promising project) to get off the ground.

American audiences will see Invictus this December, which stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Now, Mandela's wife will get a turn. Jennifer Hudson announced she will star in Winnie, a biopic about Nelson Mandela's wife. While Mandela is almost universally Jennifer_hudson beloved, Winnie doesn't have the same reputation. The couple separated after she was unfaithful, and her methods to abolish apartheid were considerably more violent. She almost served six years in jail after her bodyguard said she ordered him to kill a 14-year-old informer, but the sentence was later reduced to a fine. The contrast between Winnie and her husband is striking, and the filmmakers plan on showing her good and bad side. The project has a production start date of May 30th. Director Darrell J. Roodt has a South African pedigree, having helmed films such as Cry, the Beloved Country and Sarafina!

While Hollywood has been criticitzed for its portrayal (or lack of portrayal) of black characters over the years, these two projects, which come on the heels of two more high-profile films starring black actors, belie this notion. Three of the four are historical adaptations: Selma, Winnie and Invictus. Could this be the new trend? Because they're based in fact, they can be safer projects. By comparison, literary-based Precious is universal but controversial, difficult to watch, and has led many to cries of racism, stereotyping, and negative portrayals of black people, even as they commend the movie in other ways. But if Precious were a real person, I doubt these complaints of racism would be levied. Spike Lee's WWII box-office flop Miracle of St. Anna notwithstanding, historically based films may be the safest way to create a universal movie featuring black characters without having to deal with controversy that can swing the wrong way.

Monday, November 16, 2009

'2012' destroys the box-office competition

By Sarah Sluis

Disasters, it seems, are always in style. 2012 earned an astonishing $65 million over the weekend, exceeding expectations. All the CG carnage came at a steep price, $200 million in production costs, Plane buildings 2012 but the first-week international gross of $225 million, plus a cable deal with FX, has already steered the movie toward the black.

Coming in second place, A Christmas Carol dropped a merry 25% to $22.3 million. It also has $200 million in production costs to make back, so the movie is counting on steady audiences through the Christmas season to recoup its investment. IMAX screens alone brought in $3.1 million, continuing the trend of 3D/IMAX films being buoyed up beyond opening weekend due to the strength of the higher-priced screens.

Pirate Radio debuted right out of the top ten at $2.8 million. Because it released on just 882 screens, its per-screen average of $3,200 bested seven of the films in the top ten. The movie didn't flop, but it would have needed to at least double its per-screen average to be considered a success.

The real second-week winner was Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. The drama made the top ten while in release on under 200 screens. The only other film to do that in the past decade, according to Box Office Guru, was Paranormal Activity, which did so just weeks ago. Sometimes lightning does strike twice, but I suspect another explanation. The definition of "per-screen" may have changed--Precious was being played ten times a day, which requires more than one screen to achieve. Still, its $6 million gross and $35,000 per-screen average show the movie has a ways to go at the box office, giving it a promising forecast when it expands again this Friday.

Fantastic Mr. Fox debuted to a $65,000 per screen (though, again, playing ten times a day at each of Fantastic mr fox straight on its four "screen" locations). The stop-motion animated film will open wide over Thanksgiving. With its appeal to both kids and adults, it might be the crowd-pleasing choice, though it will have both Planet 51 and The Princess and the Frog to contend with.

This Friday, the next movie in the Twilight Saga, New Moon, will storm into over 4,000 theatres. Animated Planet 51 will provide some counter-programming for kids, and parents that don't qualify as "Twilight Moms" may want to catch feel-good The Blind Side after they drop off their rabid teenage girls at the theatre.