Friday, February 27, 2009

Jonas Brothers taking over theatres this weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Opening on a lean 1,271 screens, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience is expected to come away as the winner this weekend. The premiums on 3D tickets, which generally cost 25% more than a Jonas brothers movie

standard feature, and its 75-minute running time, which will allow theatre owners to pack in more screenings, make the movie perfectly positioned to reap up the unusually robust recession box office. But will the Jonas Brothers deliver?

Last year Hannah Montana's concert movie pre-sold significantly more tickets, but also was billed as a "one week only" run. According to Google Trends, the Jonas Brothers peaked in popularity (at least in search volume) early last year. Because it happened right around the time MTV VMA Host Russell Brand famously dissed the brothers' purity rings, and also coincided with the release of Hannah Montana's movie, I imagine many people were googling "Jonas Brothers" just to figure out who they were. Given the unflagging support of Jonas Brothers fans, the question is really just how many they are, and whetherJonas brothers filming

Mom and Dad will drive them to the movies this weekend.

The other semi-wide release of the week (1,136 screens) is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. It didn't screen for the critics, but will certainly appeal to martial arts fans and young males, although the film's low awareness means few people know about the movie.

In the wake of its Best Picture win, Slumdog Millionaire will expand to 2,943 screens, the widest ever for specialty studio Fox Searchlight. The picture crossed the $100 million mark this week, so I imagine that Searchlight expects repeat viewers or infrequent moviegoers to turn out for the accoladed film.

On the specialty circuit, Crossing Over, a Crash/Traffic story of immigration and social justice told through interlocking, Los Angeles-based stories, releases on 9 screens. Despite its stable of stars (Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd), our reviewer Shirley Sealy finds it "sometimes borders on ridiculous." Philosophical documentary Examined Life, which enlists various philosophers to explain their views in unlikely locations, opens in New York. If none of these options appeal to you, there's always An American Affair, about a boy-next-door with a crush on an alluring divorce, who just happens to be having an affair with John F. Kennedy. That boy-next-door is no Jonas Brother.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Movie Title Sequences: Do they deserve recognition?

By Sarah Sluis

This past weekend, an "op-art" in The New York Times implored the Academy to consider giving out awards for title sequences. While I can't think of anything more antithetical to classical Hollywood cinema than valuing style over narrative, the pre-story over the story, it's true that the abstracted, moody, Shining title sequence

elliptical qualities of title sequences are frequently overlooked. You rarely see a "top ten" for title sequences, and being "known" for a title sequence can carry the implication that the credits were the most exciting part of the film.

With so many approaches to creating an effective title sequence, it's no wonder there's a blog devoted to chronicling the best opening and end titles. Art of the Title focuses exclusively on the sublime art of title sequences, capturing them with screenshots. Looking at all these memorable sequences, especially those mentioned in the article, made me realize they have genres and variations all their own. Here's a list of the top ten most used title sequences.

1. The song and dance number (Mamma Mia!, Slumdog Millionaire),

2. Outtakes and/or improv-y humor (many, many comedies)


3. Artistic, moody font (Psycho, Panic Room)

4. Driving Somewhere (The Shining)

5. Panning over significant objects (Delicatessen, To Kill a Mockingbird)

6. Animated title sequence, preferably abstract and flash animation-looking (Juno, Catch Me if You Can)Juno title sequence

7.Bottom credits that run during the first few minutes and distract you

8. Partially revealed objects, and/or hands performing some kind of action (Amelie, Lolita)

9. Still shots of the location

10. The "delivery"--shows a character navigating through a scene and introducing you to the location. This can be considered a variation of the "driving somewhere" open

Title sequences have come a long way since the early days, when some snazzy music and title cards were pretty much all the effort that went into them, causing me to pay an inordinate amount of attention to credits like "Gowns by Adrian," which was a kind of secret version of "padiddle" I would play against myself. Since the famed MGM costume designer has 264 IMDB credits to his name, "look for Adrian" is a game with a pretty high rate of return. While creating an Oscar for a title sequence seems unlikely, maybe there's room for them among the Scientific & Technical Awards?

Monday, February 23, 2009

81st Oscars get a lively makeover

By Sarah Sluis

This year the Academy promised to mix up the awards show, and the vibrancy and attempt to nix the Oscar

yawn-inducing moments was a success. Even their missteps made me laugh and supplied good Oscar party chatter, so in my opinion the Academy delivered. One of the biggest improvements was removing the clips that introduce each nominee in an acting category. The clips never really seemed to capture the performance, and the stars had to act humble and sheepish about their work when the camera would cut to them afterwards, which was incredibly boring. Replacing the clips with words of praise from a winner in that category (with five past award winners assigned to praise the five nominees) added to the sense that the winner would be joining a club, a legacy, and also focused on the compliment and honor of a nomination.

Oscar presentations are known for their cheesy, overlong musical numbers and montages, but, again, the ridiculous lyrics were at least entertaining. One of my favorite moments in the opening number was the bit on The Reader. Bowing to the fact that there is always at least one movie that no one has seen (and the box-office numbers support this fact), host Hugh Jackman merely intoned "The Reader...The Reader..." in a mechanical voice while the dancers did an abstract dance. Also, instead of longish clips from each of the Best Picture nominees, the producers showed montages/shorts surrounding a genre that included non-nominated films (and made you truly appreciate the fact that Hancock and Space Chimps did not receive nominations) The comedy bit (which Judd Apatow helped create) was strong, featuring the expected jokes about Milk and misplaced laughter at dramatic moments, but what stood out to me was the irreverence of laughing at film during an awards presentation that aims to elevate movies, which also happened earlier with the Reader bit. Curious.

This year had few tight races. Sean Penn's win for Best Actor over Mickey Rourke was one of the few surprising moments of the night, as many expected Rourke to win. The other upset, especially among those participating in Oscar pools, was the choice for Foreign Language Film. Japan's Departures won over the widely publicized Waltz with Bashir, which was considered a frontrunner, and The Class, another film that was more widely seen in the United States. For the smaller categories (also more difficult to predict in those Oscar pools) the Academy put effort into explaining the technical challenges of sound mixing, editing, and art direction. Adding award-specific props to the set enhanced the visual appeal of the telecast, which was also helped by the more intimate, rounded shape of the auditorium and the interplay between the audience and the stage (which I predicted). In the end, Slumdog Millionaire received eight awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay. Most-nominated Benjamin Button came away with makeup, art direction, and visual effects, a sign that the film's technical achievements just weren't matched on a narrative level. A predictor of its impending win, Slumdog received a box office boost of 10% this weekend, and will surely cross the $100 million mark next weekend, adding to the film's success.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Weekend moviegoers to get �Fired Up' for ...'Madea'

By Sarah Sluis

In an exceptionally meager weekend at the box office, only two movies open in wide release today. The frontrunner is Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail (2,032 screens), which shows all signs of winning the Madea tractor goes to jail

weekend. While the Madea character has appeared in several of Perry's films, this will be the first since his dbut film to center the story on his most popular creation (played by Perry himself). The comedy puts the grandma-with-attitude in jail, where presumably she will be able to run down even the toughest of the prisoners. Based on a time-tested play written by Perry, the material has already made an appearance on the small screen via a DVD of the production. I am consistently amazed by Perry's business savvy. Hollywood Reporter profiled him here, including the incredible terms he was able to finagle from Lionsgate, based on his willingness to front risky projects that ultimately pay off in a big way. He's also been on the radar recently for adding his support to Lionsgate's Sundance acquisition Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire. Under his 34th Street Films label, he plans to pick up and develop additional projects that he will oversee without directing or starring.

Eye-rolling teen flick Fired Up (1,810 screens) follows two football jocks who decide to switch to cheerleading for the male-female ratio at cheer camp. One of those "going to extreme measures to Fired up pyramid

achieve something they could probably do from the comfort of their football uniforms" movies, I am sure they will learn not only to love a fellow cheerleader, but also gain newfound respect for the sport itself. Yawn. Apparently, even teenagers aren't fired up about this comedy.

With the Oscars this Sunday evening, many contenders will likely see a boost in box office as people try to evaluate pictures in their Oscar pool, but the biggest jump among Oscar films will likely be the following week, especially if there are any dramatic upsets or overwhelming victories.

Among holdovers, last week's winner Friday the 13th will surely have a top ten presence, but might drop significantly as audiences drawn to the Friday the 13th release date wane. Coraline has maintained its business through strong word-of-mouth, and even won the box office on the President's Day holiday, so it will probably continue its finish in the top ten. He's Just Not That Into You has also held up well, and in fact won the Wednesday box office, so the ensemble romance will probably hold steady as other titles (like Taken) drop lower.

For specialty film lovers, theo Bollywood release Delhi-6 opens on 89 screens. Katyn, director Andrzej Wajda's dramatization of a Polish massacre by Soviet soldiers during WWII, that not only killed his father, but also was forbidden to be discussed by the post-war government, opened at IFC Theatre in New York this Wednesday. As New York's fashion week is cresting, documentary Eleven Minutes (4 screens), about "Project Runway" winner Jay McCarroll's attempt to launch a fashion label, opens on four screens. Pieced together through family home movies, Must Read After My Death documents an unhappy family's struggles, revealing "not only dark, painful personal truths, but also something profound and disturbing about American society in the recent past." Think about that the next time someone records a family event.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

'Terminator' launches Skynet Research tie-in site

By Sarah Sluis

In preparation for the May 21st release of Terminator Salvation, Warner Bros. has launched a corporate website for Skynet. If you'll recall (perhaps while attending the Terminator 3D ride at Universal Studios, which similarly fleshed out the world of Terminator beyond its film presence), Skynet pioneered the smart machines before everything went horribly, horribly wrong. The site, which is deep enough to simulate reality, has a couple of gems I'll share below, or, of course, you can further explore the site here.

First, Onion-style testimonials, including one from a teacher:

I admit it was strange seeing the little custodian bots scurrying around our grade school, but they have proven themselves time and time again. Now they are the ones that manage the cleanup, leaving teachers more time to provide the one-on-one interaction that the children so desperately need. And the children love them so much that they now hate to leave class at the end of the day!
- Andrea Millery, Principal, Kate Ellen Elementary School, Little Rock

Next, the "Security Installations" offered by Skynet as "Outreach." The list of locations includes comic book stores across the U.S., including a video testimonial from NYC's St. Marks Comics, which you can view below.

Lastly, the whole site is peppered with Big Brother-level creepiness:

"We want to help humanity achieve some of its largest dreams. Wherever you look, you will find that Skynet is taking an active role in human affairs."

"The past is littered with the exploded infrastructures of competitors that were here one day and gone the next. You can rest assured that Skynet is committed to the present with an eye on what is coming over the horizon."

For those who simply can't get enough of this type of thing, die-hard fans can follow updates on the movie on the blog set up by Warner Bros.. Last month, I saw advance footage of Terminator Salvation, introduced by the incredibly energetic McG, which you can check out here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New life for 'Pi' with Ang Lee

By Sarah Sluis

Ang Lee, director of action and romance, will take a crack at developing Life of Pi, a book acquired back in its bestseller days and subsequently developed into a couple of screenplays. Fox 2000 has Life of pi

never gotten the project off the ground. The property is a challenge: it involves a Sixth Sense-type realignment in the last pages of the book, but doesn't commit to the change, leaving the ending open in a way that Hollywood would usually close.

Not surprisingly, M. Night Shyamalan himself has written a screenplay for the work, along with Dean Georgaris (The Manchurian Candidate, What Happens in Vegas). Whether the project moves beyond talks will probably depend on the director's take on the work (and what to do with that ending). Fox 2000, the rights holder, is currently looking for another writer to make a third go-around on the screenplay, tailoring it to Lee's vision.

The project poses an additional challenge beyond its twisty ending: animals. Most of the book takes place on a lifeboat (a third problem), where a boy is stranded with a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and tiger. Would Lee use real ones, or CGI creations? The boy also communicates with the animals--will they speak or will it be an internal thought?

There are certainly precedents for these types of dilemmas. Who can forget the monologues Tom Hanks conducted with a volleyball in Cast Away? Alfred Hitchcock set a whole movie on a lifeboat (and included a cameo of himself via a newspaper) in 1944's Lifeboat. There's also the countless dog, cat, and horse movies where you can sense the bond not only between the animals but also between the owner and the animal.

The most intriguing, and not immediately cinematic, part of Yann Martel's book is that all of our information comes from the boy, but he himself is not necessarily a reliable witness (thus the Sixth Sense comparison--although there we have the young boy present to give us clues that Bruce Willis is not as he seems). Just as I am curious to see the equally challenging adaptation of The Road this spring, I would love to see what Ang Lee could do with as introspective, animal-oriented a book as Life of Pi.

'Storm' and 'High Life' highlight Berlin Film Festival

By Sarah Sluis

Guest correspondent Heike Scharrer reports on two standout films from the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, just concluded.

In the past decade, the Berlin Film Festival has become known as a launchpad for politically minded

cinema. This year was no exception, with political thrillers like Storm, the contribution of Berlin School director Hans-Christian Schmid, re-examining war crimes and human-rights violations in the former Yugoslavia.

Kerry Fox in 'Storm'

Kerry Fox in 'Storm'

The film focuses on a lawsuit at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, which is scheduled to be shut down by 2010 due to lack of funding. Schmid provides thorough insight into the Tribunal's complex and often hidden bureaucratic system, while probing the role of justice in achieving reconciliation. The geographical complexity is complemented by an impressive multilingual cast hailing from countries ranging from Sweden and Denmark to Romania and New Zealand.

Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox) leads the trial against Goran Duric, a commander of the Yugoslavian National Army who has been significantly involved in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. However, it looks as if the trial will be cut short, as key witness Alen Hajdarevic (Kresimir Mikic) has committed suicide. Attending the funeral in Sarajevo, Hannah comes across Alen's sister Mira (Anamaria Marinca, star of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), who turns out to be a true witness to the deportations and rape of Bosnian Muslim women in the spa town of Vilina Kosa.

Sparked by this encounter, Hannah sees her chance to continue pursuing Duric, with Mira as a key witness in her game bag. But having just built herself a new life in Berlin, Mira is reluctant to join in; she doesn't want to put her family at risk. Slowly the two women make friends and, confronted by recurring memories of the incidents in Yugoslavia, Mira finally decides to put aside her private interests and testify against Duric.

Hannah faces bureaucratic obstacles and conflicting diplomatic and political interests. When colleagues within her own ranks bend to the bureaucratic machine, disallowing Mira's testimony, Hannah has to resolve the inner conflict between her idealism and the fulfillment of her institutional duties.

The character of Hannah is based on Carla del Ponte, The Hague's ambitious and largely successful female prosecutor. It's evident Schmid spent a great deal of time researching the subject, given the complexity and level of detail involved. Ultimately, the film's message is that justice depends on one's perspective.

Employing handheld camerawork and clinical, nondescript locations, Schmid strives for authenticity, the traditional documentary style in narrative filmmaking of the Berlin School, which idolizes directors like John Cassavetes. But Storm's aesthetics are as conventional as an average TV drama's; handheld camerawork is no longer a novelty. Schmid also shuns flashbacks to the incidents in the former Yugoslavia, which is consistent with the film's documentary style and avoidance of sensationalist traps.


Arriving in Berlin one year after Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg, Gary Yates' genre film High Life offered a new angle on life in the Canadian provincial city of Winnipeg. Based on a play by Lee MacDougall, this upbeat black comedy follows four hapless small-time criminals trying to pull off a bank heist.

We find ourselves in Winnipeg in 1983, where it is supposedly so cold one might be better off being locked up in prison (where it's warmer). Dick, a slacker and morphine addict, has just started his first serious job in a real hospital when the past catches up with him. His mate Bug unexpectedly turns up at his workplace and gets him fired just like that.

The two lowlifes and their friends continue living out their pink morphine dreams in a warehouse loft, while hatching plots for the future. Dick is in urgent need of cash to get some more dope and pay back his mate who took his rap. A compelling idea soon arises: The ATM has just been invented, offering a chance to defy the cold hand of new technology. Donnie, another member of the clique, has already had experience with the new devices, as a pickpocket specializing in debit-card scams. Since he's a nice guy, he always returns the wallets to the original owners as "it's a disaster if you lose your purse." The three guys finally decide to face the challenge, joined by handsome womanizer Billy, who enjoys life as it comes�even when he finds himself bloodstained all over in a convenience store, he still has a flirting eye for the cashier girl. Surreal details, like a horse standing around in Dick's apartment during a drug session, seem perfectly at home in the dream world of the four protagonists.

The look of High Life is highly stylized and reminiscent of graphic novels, intensified by high-contrast lighting. This often leaves the faces of the actors slightly darker than their surroundings, with a light edge at the side�a common practice in graphic novels.

The color pink dominates the film. Pink is the color of sweet dreams and the morphine tablets that these amiable screwups are constantly consuming. The color pink also becomes their undoing as they try to get away with the bank notes, thanks to a color bomb which explodes, covering the protagonists in pink paint from head to toe and making the cash virtually useless.

High Life may not be utterly innovative, but it's an effective piece of contemporary genre filmmaking whose main strength is its amiable characters.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'Friday the 13th' most profitable holiday in four-day weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Earning $19.35 million on its eponymous release date, Friday the 13th had a comfortably steep slope to Friday 13th 2009

slide down as its grosses decreased through the rest of the four-day weekend. It ended the weekend with a $45.2 million gross, including a $4.5 million gross on President's Day.

Just behind the man in the hockey mask, He's Just Not That Into You experienced strong holdover business, dropping just 29.4% from the weekend before (15.9% if you include Monday) to earn about half of Friday the 13th's gross, $23.36 million. Two spots below, Confessions of a Shopaholic opened to 80% of HJNTIY's gross. $17.3 million. While HJNTIY and Taken doubled their Friday gross on Valentine's Day, Confessions of a Shopaholic only saw a 50% boost in business, indicating that it was less of a draw for the holiday's audiences.

Sleeper hit Taken dropped just 7.5% to finish third, even as it decreased the number of screens in its release. It went on to earn $22.2 million over the four-day weekend. I have not seen a single commercial for this film, which indicates that the marketing campaign successfully excluded those outside the probable demographic.

If the economy really explains Confessions of a Shopaholic's clearance-level opening, then maybe the economy can also explain the success of Taken. At a time when people are losing everything, a movie about reclaiming a prized possession (hey, the kidnappers are the ones claiming a child has a price) serves as a proxy for that foreclosed home, while Taken liam neeson

also subtly reminding people of their priorities. Our reviewer Jon Frosch aptly called the kipppapping film "a lurid pull" because it has the built-in pressure to find someone before it's "too late," while also activating deep insecurities about the trustworthiness of those close to you--the "inside job." The genre could even be considered a male melodrama, in the sense that it deals with threats to family, unfortunate turns of fate, and tugs on the heartstrings. What makes the genre so appealing, however, is that it's also about the male hero being able to rally and save the day, and what better film for today's economy? Or Valentine's Day?

Rounding out the list, The International debuted at #7, earning $9.3 million, which I calculate approximately covers the cost of the fake Guggenheim set, plus maybe Naomi Watts? Even though the bank (and the mob) are the villains in this movie, it seemed far removed from the credit crisis. Selling weapons to Third World countries, further indebting them and subjecting them to the bank's control just didn't seem that evil, or relevant. What about falsifying mortgage documents and bankrupting once-upon-a-time homeowners? I'd like to see a movie about that.

Other beneficiaries of the four-day weekend included kid-themed pictures Coraline, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and The Pink Panther 2. All three films jumped up a spot from their weekend gross once President's Day was factored in. Far down at #9, and benefiting from its "shoo-in" reputation for the Best Picture in the Oscar race, Slumdog Millionaire saw an increase in business, adding $7.3 million to give it a cumulative $86.6 million gross--and, with a boost the next couple weekends from the Oscar (and post-Oscar), perhaps it will finally top the $100 million mark.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Three-day, three-holiday weekend to lure in horror, romcom audiences

By Sarah Sluis

This Friday is Friday the 13th. Valentine's Day actually falls on Date Night. Monday, office workers and kids have the day off, some kicking off a whole week of mid-winter leisure. Hollywood, rejoice. Everyone's going to the movies.

Jason Friday the 13th 2009

The Friday the 13th (3,105 screens) revival, which takes place at roughly the same time as the third installment of the ten-film franchise, has garnered surprisingly affirmative reviews. Calling it an "unapologetically brutal and boneheaded slasher picture," our Ethan Alter conceded that it's "an effective revival of a dormant franchise," an accolade made even more meaningful since the remake comes from production company Platinum Dunes, whose horror redos The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher have not met with similar receptions.

Competing with romcom holdover He's Just Not That Into You, Confessions of a Shopaholic (2,507 screens) definitely has an edge over last week's release. Slightly more optimistic, and definitely lighter and more ebullient,Isla fisher

it's more neutral fare for a couple to see on Valentine's Day. The PG rating ensures that the under 18 audience will

turn out to see the film through the Monday holiday, and I think the appeal to younger audiences will be the film's biggest advantage over HJNTIY. As a kid, my whole fifth-grade class was abuzz for months after the release of Clueless; I forecast a similar reaction to the over-the-top ridiculousness that makes Confessions of a Shopaholic such innocent fun. Also, I pish-posh anyone who claims the movie is poorly timed given the state of the economy. Shall we talk Depression-era musicals?

Fans of Clive Owen and modern architecture will probably enjoy The International (2,364 screens), but apparently these people are few and far between, as the travelogue actioner has been tracking well under expectations. Much to my shock after seeing the film, it was directed by Tom Tykwer of Run Lola Run, a frenetically plotted film with a heroine who did quite a bit more than Naomi Watts does in The International. The cinematography by Frank Griebe is fantastic, as is the extensive use of sleek buildings, which our critic Erica Abeel notes the director uses to "convey sinister forces and emotional states...the gleaming grey-blue corporate suites become the fearsome visual embodiment of corporate might." Too bad Tykwer tasks the buildings with pulling all the emotional weight of the film.

For those close to an IMAX theatre, Under The Sea 3D (49 screens) is a splendid, but short, look into a Under the sea 3d great white

coral reef full of exotic creatures--it's worth admission alone to see the cuttlefish capture its prey with its tentacle-like tongue. If you're curious about Joaquin Phoenix's self-pronounced last performance, and maybe trying to figure out why he acted so weird on David Letterman the other night, Two Lovers (7 screens), a romance set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, will roll out in limited release. The much-acclaimed Oscar shutout Gomorrah also opens in limited release (5 screens NY/LA), to show its violent take on modern Italian organized crime. Under director Matteo Garrone, "each frame is skillfully conceived to illustrate entrapment," says our Maria Garcia. Over at FJI we're honoring our Presidents, so we'll recap the surely boffo box office on Tuesday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dear social networking thriller: Make the Internet interesting

By Sarah Sluis

Yesterday brought news of another social networking film, a thriller to be produced by the Weinstein Co.'s genre banner, Dimension Films. It's apparently like Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None, per our PC times) in cyberspace. The classic novel assembled ten people who had committed murder, often of the gray and unprosecutable kind, and watched them all perish on an island at the hands of a mysterious killer. With that in mind, expect at least one of the victims to be a Pillow-talk-splitscreen

cyberbully, perhaps one who posed as a teen boy and drove a teen girl to suicide (see the Lori Drew case). I'm also curious to see how the filmmakers can make the Internet cinematic. If you look across film history you can see the variety of ways telephones, then answering machines, mobile phones, pay phones, etc., evolved as a plot device. There's the scratchy long-distance connections in It's A Wonderful Life and Meet Me in St. Louis, the clever party line-dependent plot in Pillow Talk, the dozens upon dozens of films that play answering machines to empty houses, for that "just too late" effect, thrillers that use pay phone chases, etc.

With so many years lapsing from page to screen, viewers are frequently confronted with anachronistic uses of technology, one of my biggest pet peeves. It's surprising how many movies fall victim to this. Ginnifer goodwin

Sure, the answering machine is a great plot device, because it allows for a missed connection, but at this point can't we just switch to voicemail? Did He's Just Not That Into You really need a scene of Ginnifer Goodwin waiting by her phone? A phone with a cord? And no answering machine? The scene no longer makes sense in today's world, and it's certainly not a scene anyone young can relate to. Compare to the follow-up scene of her keeping her phone handy during yoga class. This is actually more realistic, since yoga studios require phones to be silenced, so it would make sense for her to keep her phone within her visual reference so she could dash out if he called. Just cut the first scene! Pay attention, Hollywood! Ask your young assistants!

As I see it, one of the big problems with the Internet is that it's a written, not spoken, form of communication, which is much less interesting onscreen. Of course, there are many ways to fix this. Video chats, reading aloud (ick), mumbling to yourself (better), or even digitally projecting the computer screen to the side of the screen instead of the over-the-shoulder computer shot. A teen genre pictureTom hanks you've got mail

that released late last year, Sex Drive, did this to great effect, probably because the filmmakers themselves were young and well-poised to understand a demographic only slightly younger than themselves. I remember being slightly squirmy during Nora Ephron's remake of pen pal romance A Shop Around the Corner into email/IMing romance You've Got Mail. Some of the ways the characters used technology just weren't right. Admittedly, this was exacerbated by the generational difference between myself and Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan--even I am not as immersed in technology as those just a few years younger than me. Dimension, make the Internet proud with your social networking thriller. The Internet is counting on you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' spoofs a literary classic

By Sarah Sluis

The not-yet-released reworking of a Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has taken the PrideprejudicezombiesInternet by storm, the clever cover of the book selling an idea that's Snakes on a Plane ridiculous. Hollywood studios, apparently, are now in a bidding war to acquire rights to the book, which just might result in the biggest invasion of the romcom genre in some time.

The book, written by comedian Seth Grahame-Smith, is 85% original, 15% a fan fiction-like takeoff that contextualizes Elizabeth Bennet's love triangle against a zombie attack. One can only hope that part of Bennet's misgivings about Mr. Darcy now involve fears that he either is a zombie or was somehow involved in their proliferation.

I am extremely amused by this idea, although I imagine it might be hard to extend the gimmick to a novel-length or feature-length project. Romcom whiners can rejoice over an injection of zombies, sure to liven up the passive hand-wringing and letter-writing of period romances. The idea has sparked other ideas for adaptations, including a cross of a Japanese ghost story with Wuthering Heights, where a deceased Catherine returns to haunt Heathcliff, and a more horrific take on the crazy wife locked in the attic of Jane Eyre (although, sixty years later, the 1944 version starring Orson Welles is still a must-see). Unlike Pride and Prejudice, these two books are gothic romances, and much more suitable to a horrific adaptation, and would probably be shorter on comedy than the Jane Austen/Zombie rework. With so many horror movies influenced by gothic romance, I think it's a great idea to go back to the source, put the horror on equal weight with the romance, and apply the conventions and style of modern horror movies to a period tale. Movies like What Lies Beneath (2000) and Ghost (1990), the only two examples I can think of that put the romance and horror/mystery elements on equal footing, are fairly rare, so I would welcome a chance to mix my thrills, whether it's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or a reimagining of another gothic romance classic.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Audiences really 'Into You;' 'Coraline' attracts crowds to 3D venues

By Sarah Sluis

Friday night, a friend called me ranting--her planned activity of sisterly bonding, a screening of He's Just Not That Into You, was foiled by sold-out shows throughout Manhattan. Apparently, even at noon on Hes just not that into you justin long ginnifer goodwin

Friday, many evening showings of the film (probably an above-average draw in the "Sex and the City" epicenter) were sold out. The film cleared an estimated $27.5 million over the weekend, earning it the number one spot. It's no surprise to me that the light-hearted ensemble romance won at the box office. From my friend's perspective, it looked a lot better than Bride Wars, and was the kind of film you "plan" to see with a friend. She had even extended the invitation to a co-worker, but was turned down because the co-worker had already promised to see the film with someone else.

The release of romantic comedies always prompts the scorn of those wishing for more diverse options for women, but I have a hard time with those arguments because, however over-the-top and out-of-touch the movies are, they're fun, forgettable fantasties. Like a horror movie, they provoke a specific reaction, then are over and out. And for every actress mired in romcom fare (I'm talking to you, Kate Hudson), others eschew froth. Take Angelina Jolie. Admittedly more of a "guy's girl" than a "girl's girl," she's starred in a number of films centered on women that don't fall into the traditional "romcom" formula, such as Girl Interrupted, Changeling, A Mighty Heart, and Wanted. Her closest thing to a romantic comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, was delightfully influenced by 30's screwball comedy, and hilariously subversive of traditional gender roles. Before I hear another argument bemoaning the half-dozen films per year falling into the "consumerist romance" genre, I wish someone would take the time to pick apart more than anecdotal evidence.

Looking through the rest of the top ten, number two film Taken dropped just 17% from last week to earn $20.3 million, providing fare for an underserved demographic, primarily older males.

Coraline and The Pink Panther 2 came in at number three and number four, earning $16.3 million and $12 million, respectively. The two kid/family oriented pictures, put together, equaled the gross of He's Just Not That Into You. The overlap cut into each film's performance, but critical success Coraline should benefit from stronger word-of-mouth through the President's Day weekend. Considered a difficult sell, Coraline already outperformed studio expectations. Rolling out in 3D in a disappointing 43% of its release, the movie made up for it by earning 70% of its gross from 3D venues. Since 3D tickets generally cost just 20% more, the numbers suggest that audiences searched out 3D venues. Also, because 3D movies require glasses, the film likely deterred movie hoppers.

Summit's plot-tangle superhero movie Push debuted at $10.2 million. The garbled plot had nobody, including the studio, fooled, so Summit is likely happy it did better than last week's flop New in Town, which didn't even break $10 million last week (or make the top ten this week).

Long-in-release films like Gran Torino and Slumdog Millionaire continued to do strong business, each dropping less than 10% and racking up another $7 million each.

The weekend ahead holds not only a Saturday Valentine's Day, but also an extended three-day weekend for President's Day, ensuring that movies about couples, singles, families, and kids will see extra action over the weekend. Horror pic Friday the 13th, actioner The International, and consumerist comedy/romance Confessions of a Shopaholic will join the three-day fray.

Complete studio estimates viewable here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

PG-rated 'Coraline' and 'Pink Panther 2' provide kid-to-adult fare

By Sarah Sluis

It's been three whole weekends since PG-rated comedy Hotel for Dogs released, and two since the much-maligned PG fantasy Inkheart, so the field is ripe for the two PG-rated pictures releasing this weekend, The Pink Panther 2 (3,243 screens) and Coraline (2,298 screens, half 3D). Debuting the Coraline dakota fanning

week before President's Day weekend, when many schoolchildren have the day or the week off (mid-winter break!), these films are banking on strong openings that will generate strong word-of-mouth through the holiday weekend.

Coraline has that difficult problem of being an animated film whose appeal extends beyond--while not entirely including--the "animated" demographic. Sensitive kids will have a hard time with this film, not only because it's suspenseful, but because its world is truly creepy. Henry Selick creates a world, according to our Executive Editor Kevin Lally, that's "anything but standard kids' fare: It's dark, creepy, surreal and

Coraline dakota fanning 2

idiosyncratic. But then again, so was Lewis Carroll's Alice's

Adventures in Wonderland
." I also had a chance to see the film, which should really be watched in 3D, and had the sense that those button eyes would have given me nightmares as a wee'un. Only half of the theatres will screen in 3D, which, incidentally, can be linked back to the recession. While exhibitors and distributors had rather lengthy negotiations working out who should pay for the conversion to digital projectors, agreements are now in place--but there's no money being lent due to the collapse of the credit markets. With nearly a dozen 3D movies releasing this year, the next up on the list, Monsters vs. Aliens, is especially nervous about lining up adequate 3D venues.

Based on an advice book penned by writers on the television show "Sex and the City," He's Just Not That Into You (3,175 screens) is a fluffy romance about doormats, sexpots, commitment-phobes, etc.,Ginnifer goodwin

that's just in time for Valentine's Day, though I suspect many of those attending will be singles "celebrating" by wallowing about being unlucky in love, just like main character Ginnifer Goodwin. While embellished with cutesy flourishes, the film just isn't that funny, and has a squirmy, condescending feel to it carried over from the book. With about the same satiety as one of those boxes of Sweetheart hearts (kindly provided at the screening I attended), you pretty much get what you expect, and a little less.

Superhero movie Push (2,313 screens) also releases this week, and suffers from the worst of errors, according to our Ethan Alter: "a great premise...marred by disastrous execution." Unlike the well thought-out universes it borrows from, like X-Men and The Matrix, the movie has holes you can poke your head through, not the kind you can ignore for the sake of fun.

The Weinstein Company is quietly releasing bomb Fanboys on 44 screens, and it will probably turn up on DVD shortly after. The film has been delayed for over two years, and follows boys on a roadtrip to see The Phantom Menace for the first time. With the fairly "basic Star Wars references that actually condescend to geeks under the guise of celebrating their peculiar culture," Ethan Alter predicted the movie won't even have cult status among those who should love it best.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Behind the scenes with Selick on 'Coraline'

By Sarah Sluis

Coraline releases this Friday, and, its creepiness level is right up there with director Henry Selick's 1993 movie The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film I found a little too disturbing and unsettling when I saw it on the upper side of grade school (to be fair, I was much more fright-averse than average). For an adult, however, Selick's tone conjures up just the right amount of heebie-jeebies. In the age of computer animation, it's astonishing to see the meticulous, detail-oriented work that goes into such a production--of note, it's the first stop-motion film to be filmed in 3D. Our Maria Garcia interviewed director Selick here about the filmmaking process, and our Executive Editor Kevin Lally reviewed the final product here, and both stories are worth checking out.

In Garcia's interview, Selick touches upon that stop-motion, Chucky-like quality of puppets:

"the puppets 'make the creepy

things in the story more charming' and 'add creepiness to the

charming stuff'"

In Coraline, puppets not only depict the action, but have a sort of role in the film itself. Coraline's Other Mother and Other Father have buttons for eyes, giving them unchanging, penetrating expressions. Over at Wired, they have a slide show of the production process. Pink cherry blossoms, for example, are hand-painted pieces of popcorn--that took eight hundred hours to paint. Grass is painted fake hair, facial expressions (which number 25,000) come from 350 types of eyebrows and 700 types of mouths, and steam is cotton that defies gravity through hair spray.

After the jump, more photos from the Coraline production.


The popcorn-decorated trees


Piano wire mustache


Creating Coraline


Cotton held up with hairspray

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Oscars dangle promise: 'truly different' ceremony

By Sarah Sluis

During yesterday's Oscar lunch, while nominees were presented with commemorative sweatshirts Oscar statuette 1

, the chief of the Academy promised something "truly different." The non-statement, for some reason, reminded me of a scene in The Bad and the Beautiful. Faced with a decidedly un-scary cat man costume, the filmmakers hide it with a bit of shadowy lighting, and voila, instant horror hit. The ambiguous statement will have bloggers abuzz with all the ways the Academy could improve the ceremony, much more than an announcement about "awesome career montages," "musical guests!" and "awkward in-aisle acceptance speeches" could rile up potential viewers. At least on a PR front, the Academy's generating excitement.

My guess is that the Academy will go for more interaction between the audience and those on-stage. Movie fans, myself included, love that "backstage" element and looking at what goes into making a show. I caught part of the Miss America pageant a couple weekends ago, which has tried to revive its ratings by incorporating an announcer backstage (as well as a mini-reality series weeks beforehand). Viewers were treated to the entertaining sight of coiffed contestants high-tailing it to their dressing rooms like their life depended on it--they looked like Runaway Bride. Much of the fun of the Oscars, in my experience anyway, is the red carpet and interviews, the bizarre jokes and corny segments that make you turn to the person sitting on the couch next to you and mouth 'What?,' and the non sequiturs, trips, and tearfully garbled speeches that make the show more real. A smoothly running show just doesn't entertain. These days, if people want banal, they'll watch a TMZ clip of a celebrity getting out of a car, not an artfully delivered, rehearsed acceptance speech. Will the Academy be able to rise to its promise, and deliver a "truly different" ceremony?

Monday, February 2, 2009

'Taken' scores on Super Bowl weekend box office

By Sarah Sluis

As I mentioned on Friday, studios have avoided releasing male-oriented films on Super Bowl Weekend, Liam Neeson taken

wary of the inevitable spike downward on Sunday, when people everywhere huddle around the television to eat guacamole and chicken wings, and/or watch the game. Fox chanced that kidnapping thriller Taken would be able to grab enough viewers Friday and Saturday to make up for a precipitous drop on Sunday. They were right. Taken dropped 69% on Sunday, but still managed to make $24.6 million and finish the weekend at number one.

To put the numbers in perspective, most films drop 25-40% on Sunday (a number in the mid-30's is about average). What Fox must have noticed, though, is that even non-male oriented titles drop on Super Bowl Sunday. New in Town, for example, a female-skewing romantic comedy, dropped 61% on Sunday--only eight percent less than Taken. Clearly, the Super Bowl is not the provenance of males alone, but inspires households to watch together, male and female alike.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop, like Taken, exceeded the studio's box office expectations. The surprise success continued to rally above-average audiences. The film came in at number two again, earning $14 million. Its three-week total of $83 million assures that it will cross the $100 million mark in a few more weeks.

Horror flick The Uninvited debuted at number three to $10.5 million, exceeding the results of fellow wide release opener New in Town, a romantic comedy that posed a challenge to marketers over at Lionsgate, and received a mention in a recent New Yorker article on film marketing. Making a slim $6.7 million, it apparently came in according to the studio's (low) expectations.

Oscar shut-out Gran Torino has received a different kind of award: box-office success. The film has already passed the $100 million mark, and pulled in another $8.6 million this week. Eastwood was honored with the Irving G. Thalberg award fourteen years ago--and, like many of those honored, has continued an outpouring of solid, high-quality work.

Slumdog Millionaire, still buzzing twelve weeks after it opened, expanded its release yet again, earning $7.6 million and bringing its cumulative to $67.2 million. Director Danny Boyle won the DGA award this weekend. The award almost always results in a win for Best Director at the Oscars, so Slumdog, while garnering far fewer nominations than Ben Button, has a stronger chance of winning its categories.

Next week brings deliciously creepy stop-motion Coraline, romcom He's Just Not That Into You, Pink Panther 2, and Push. Summit's Push stars Dakota Fanning, meaning the young actress, who also voices the titular role in Coraline, will have two films debut the same week.

Full studio estimates here.