Monday, March 30, 2009

'Waltz with Bashir,' 'Man on Wire' come up on top at Cinema Eye Honors

By Sarah Sluis

Before presenting the award for Outstanding Achievement in Direction at last night's Cinema Eye Honors, legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles wryly noted that "in documentary filmmaking, God is really the director." Trophies_480bw

With that acknowledgment, the award went to Ari Folman, who used animation to recreate his experiences in the 1982 Lebanon War in Waltz with Bashir. Held at the sleek, modern Times Center on West 41st street, an "upgrade" from the IFC Center downtown where the first awards were held (and many of the documentaries screen), host AJ Schnack called the venue"Disney-fied."

Winning awards not only for Direction, but also Graphic Design and Animation, Music Composition, and International Feature, Waltz with Bashir came away with the most awards of the evening. Accepting an award for the fourth time, art director David Polonsky humbly joked, "This is getting awkward. I'm not Ari

Folman. I did the drawings."

Man on Wire followed Bashir with three awards, including top honor Outstanding Achievement in NonFiction Feature Filmmaking. Shy editor Jinx Godfrey accepted the award for editing, and Simon Chinn for production.

Up the Yangtzee, which took five years to complete, won the Debut Feature category as well as the Audience Choice award, though director Yung Chang noted that he had "cheated" a little, harnessing the power of chain emails to rack up votes in China.

The award for cinematography went to Peter Zeitlinger for his work on Werner Herzog's feature Encounters at the End of the World. While Zeitlinger had planned on attending, the loyal cinematographer was called away by Herzog at the last minute--apparently not unusual for someone who has been ordered to float down a river holding a camera--twice--to get a shot.

In the middle of the ceremony, AJ Schmack hosted a roundtable with directors Ellen Kuras (The Betrayal), Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths), James Marsh (Man on Wire) and Jody Shapiro, the producer/cinematographer of My Winnipeg. Brown talked about the polarizing response she has received for her film, which follows the black and white kings and queens of Mardi Gras during the first year they acknowledge each other's presence. A screening in Mobile, Alabama, where the shooting took place, inspired both walkouts and interactivity, a "surreal" experience where people talked at the screen as the movie was "taken back to the audience."

Kuras, who took twenty-four years to complete The Betrayal, her first directorial project, admitted the film's long gestation had marked her: now all anyone asks her is what she will direct next. Kuras emphasized how much she likes her role as cinematographer as well as director. "I wouldn't just direct the next romcom. I want to focus on having an aesthetic; ideas I want to explore."

For Marsh, Man on Wire was about redemption, "a way to salvage what I could of my career" after his film The King was panned at the Cannes Film Festival. He noted a difference between the "passionate, respectful" documentary filmmakers and the "unpleasant, hostile, competitive" independent filmmaking community. As for his next project? It's his firm ambition to "blunder on from one foolhardy adventure to the next."

Shapiro revealed the casual, collaborative camerawork on set with Guy Maddin. Deflecting a compliment about his cinematography credit on the film, he noted that "Guy's the kind of person who will just ask someone to hold up a light quickly to shoot a cutaway. He doesn't care. For the snowstorm [scene], we just grabbed the hand-cranked Bolex because that's what was there. We used Super 8 cameras, and during any scene three to four cameras would be rolling."

As the second annual event wrapped up, the filmmakers left the Times Center and reconvened at Arena, where a DJ played dance-friendly music and nominees enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. While the drinks were free, many of the presenters who mangled names promised to apologize and "buy" a drink for the fellow nominees later, discuss their new projects and enjoy the "passionate, respectful" company of their colleagues.

Friday, March 27, 2009

'Monsters vs. Aliens' invades theatres

By Sarah Sluis

Releasing in 4,104 theatres on over 7,000 screens, Monsters vs. Aliens will saturate the market this weekend. The credit crunch, however, will prevent the 3D rollout Paramount had hoped for: Only 2 out of Monsters vs aliens reese witherspoon

7 screens will show the movie in 3D.

Theatres and studios only recently agreed on the virtual print fee (a way for theatres and studios to share the costs of conversion to digital and 3D), but the financial crisis has cut off lending, leaving theatres unable to secure financing, and American moviegoers with limited places to see Reese Witherspoon as a 3D Ginormica/Susan Murphy.

Whatever the film's take this weekend (likely: high), much of it will be coming from 3D venues, which charge a roughly 25% premium. Add in the extra $1 to see it in IMAX 3D, and you're looking at 3D ticket prices ranging from $12.50 in Indiana to a monster-sized $18.50 in the Big Apple. Still, audiences have shown that they are more than willing to pay extra for 3D, and the novelty factor makes 3D screens profitable weeks after a film's release. This year's 3D pictures Coraline, My Bloody Valentine, and Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience earned a disproportionate percentage of their gross from 3D venues, which only increased as the weeks wore on. Presumably, this can be explained by theatres scaling back the 2D screens, as well as audiences specifically seeking out the 3D experience (I assume many 3D venues sell out opening weekend). Billed as the first movie "fully authored" in 3D, and certainly the one with the widest release, many eyes will be looking to see if Monsters vs. Aliens will pop.

Competing with the family crowds, The Haunting in Connecticut will roll out to 2,732 theatres. A Haunting in connecticut

typical teen-oriented horror picture that's tracking well with teen girls (the "new" audience for horror movies). According to our critic John DeFore, the pictures mines "cancer, an abandoned mortuary and necromancy" for its screams.

Finally, 12 Rounds will open at 2,331 locations. The B-actioner, filmed in New Orleans to take advantage of a tax credit, has that Saw/psycho mastermind element to it: an escaped criminal seeking revenge puts a police officer through 12 rounds of challenges in order to rescue his kidnapped wife. The World Wrestling Federation (WWE) produced the flick, so take that as an endorsement, or a warning.

Next week our Executive Editor Kevin Lally will be reporting from Las Vegas on ShoWest, so look for his posts.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Coupling off: Studios attaching stars to their rom-coms

By Sarah Sluis

Love is in the air. News of developing romantic comedies just keeps on coming:

First, it was Cameron Diaz announcing she will star in Swingles, a tired-sounding romantic comedy with

an inevitable coupling you can see miles away. She will play an acerbic woman who serves as a What happens in vegas

replacement wingman for a hard-to-please guy who has been dumped by his (male) wingman. I see a little Hitch in here, a little battle-of-the-sexes, but this movie better be filled to the brim with jokes in order to get it past the premise.

Then, third-time's-the-charm, a currently untitled romantic comedy, previously titled Wichita and Trouble Man, has again been dredged up as a possible romance between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Cruise is also considering presidential thriller The 28th Amendment, so this is likely just one of many announcements that will take place as the star settles on his next project. If it goes forward, Cruise would play a man who mysteriously pops up into a lovelorn Diaz's life after one blind date.

Rashida Jones, fresh off her star turn as Paul Rudd's fiance in I Love You, Man, has been cast in spec project Celeste and Jesse Forever. The script follows a young, divorcing couple who try to remain friends as they forge new relationships and separate lives. It sounds quirky and unusual, and all the more so if they don't end up back together in the end (terrible, I know).

ThreeStooges-backgroundWhile not romantic, it's also worth mentioning that the Farrelly Brothers' incarnation of The Three Stooges has tightened its cast list: Sean Penn will be Larry, Jim Carrey plus forty pounds will be Curly, and Benicio Del Toro (hopefully) will be Moe. A project of passion that has cycled through studios for a decade, it's hoped that a fall production will make for a 2010 release date.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Trailer for 'Where the Wild Things Are' released

By Sarah Sluis

Warner Bros. just released its (extremely well-made) trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. Unlike most movie trailers, this one seems targeted not for children, but for twenty- and thirty-somethings that grew up Where the wild things are_

with Maurice Sendak's acclaimed book, published in 1988 and the winner of the Caldecott Medal.

First, it's set to the Arcade Fire song "Wake Up." Second, Dave Eggers penned the screenplay and Spike Jonze directed the work, two names that have cachet among the age group. Third, this movie has moved around its release dates, which occasionally indicates changes in strategy/trouble, and will now release on October 17. All of the moving around was accompanied by blogosphere rumors that the film was testing too edgy and subversive for children, which might explain why the trailer seems targeted towards adults. Last year, Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened in early October to great box office, so it's not a dump (in fact, one of the planned release dates was February, also similar to the October slot) but a less competitive time than a summer or December release. I'm certain that Where the Wild Things Are doesn't expect twenty and thirty-somethings to be the primary audience for the movie, but this is the kind of trailer that makes me wish I had a nephew or niece to take to the movies.

I had heard that Where the Wild Things Are would be a mix of live action/CGI, but I certainly didn't expect the kind of miniature/claymation work that also sneaks into the trailer. There are also many jump cuts onMV5BMTkxODYxMDU5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODA5MDAyMg@@._V1._SX600_SY338_

running, itself a common occurrence in movie trailers, but this trailer closely aligns main protagonist Max's position in the shots so we see him continuously running while the background changes from the land of Where the Wild Things Are and his home, a rather thrilling use of editing.

Sendak's book is pretty short on plot, and long on mood, but based on one shot in the trailer, I have confidence that Jonze and Eggers will be able to embellish the plot while preserving the simple emotions that drive the story. Max sneaks a look of his parents sharing some wine and lovey-dovey looks with each other. It conveys so Max king

much of that kid movie emotion, where you love and hate your parents at the same time, and explains some of the alienation Max feels from his parents, who don't understand him and are wrapped up in their own lives. If my memory serves me correctly, the scene must come after Max is sent to bed without dinner for misbehaving. While I'll have to wait until October 17th to find out, Where the Wild Things Are seems like a solid adaptation with a thoughtful marketing campaign.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Anne Hathaway over the rainbow for Judy Garland biopic 'Get Happy'

By Sarah Sluis

Call it The Bad and the Beautiful meets The Valley of the Dolls, with a little bit of Walk the Line thrown in. Anne Hathaway will play Judy Garland in both a film and a stage adaptation of Get Happy, a

Judy garland

production based on the biography of the star penned by Gerard Clark. The Weinstein Company, which has recently been dipping into Broadway for film adaptations (upcoming Nine and August: Osage County) will produce. Apparently Hathaway's "impromptu" singing during the Oscars reminded viewers that she can in fact carry a tune, and has contributed songs in the past for her children's movies Ella Enchanted and Hoodwinked.

Judy Garland's life seems to be an exercise in contrasts: she was an incredibly talented performer, Anne-hathawaystarring in dozens of movies, including a few that regularly show up on "Top 100" lists: The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Star is Born. Behind the scenes, she had the multiple marriages that seem to characterize female Hollywood stars, was cheated and manipulated by those who worked with her, and struggled with an addiction to amphetamines unscrupulously supplied by the studio. For those who grew up with images of Garland as Dorothy Gale or singing in wholesome Midwestern musical Meet Me in St. Louis, reconciling those images can be difficult. There's a chance that the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

aspect of Judy Garland will take over in the adaptation, overshadowing her great contributions to film history as a performer. Since the project has yet to attach a writer or director to lend a vision to the project, it's difficult to know how it will be approached creatively. What interests me is the idea of using songs originally sung by her within the context of her personal life, an approximation of the repurposing in Mamma Mia!. While I can't think of an appropriate place for "The Trolley Song," I'm looking forward to the inevitable inclusion of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." With Hathaway booked for at least three films, it will be at least 2011 before the project comes to fruition. With the expense of a stage production much less than a film production, I expect that the Garland story would open on Broadway and be tweaked before it moves into a film adaptation

Monday, March 23, 2009

'Knowing' bests 'I Love You, Man' and 'Duplicity'

By Sarah Sluis

Knowing may have used some of those secret numbers in its plotline to glean advance knowledge of its box-office dominance: it pulled in $24.8 million, 37% more than runner-up I Love You, Man, while Knowing_nic cage

releasing in only 20% more theatres. The Nicolas Cage starrer opened on par with his films Gone in 60 Seconds and Con Air, though it only pulled in half as much as his hit from two years ago, Ghost Rider.

Funnymen Paul Rudd and Jason Segal drove viewers to see I Love You, Man, which finished second with $18 million. Nearly even with the bromantic comedy, number three finisher Duplicity earned $14.4 million. All three of these titles will have little competition next weekend, giving them plenty of time to pick up more box office through word of mouth.

Right below Duplicity, kiddie flick Race to Witch Mountain earned $13 million, but will likely drop heavily next weekend with the release of Monsters vs. Aliens. Would-be blockbuster Watchmen earned half that at number five, coming in at $6.7 million and approaching the $100 million mark, which is still far under I love you man jason segal

the film's production costs. At number six, horror flick The Last House on the Left pulled in $5.9 million in its second week, but will have to withstand competition next week with the release of The Haunting in Connecticut.

Filling out the bottom four are long-lasting releases Slumdog Millionaire ($2.7 million), Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail ($2.5 million), Coraline ($2.1 million) and Paul Blart: Mall Cop ($1.8 million), all of which have been in theatres for at least a month. Of the four, Madea Goes to Jail and Coraline have not yet grossed $100 million, and are unlikely to pass the mark at the domestic box office.

This week, Monsters vs. Aliens and The Haunting of Connecticut open wide. The collapse of credit markets prevented many theatres from securing funding to convert their screens to digital, meaning the 3D family film will open on far fewer 3D screens than expected, yet another effect of the recession.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Three diverse titles contend for top spot

By Sarah Sluis

Of the three major films releasing this weekend, sci-fi thriller Knowing has made the biggest bet, opening on 3,332 screens, the widest release. Its ubiquity could push it to the top spot, but the Nic Cage film will Jason segal paul rudd

have tough competition from Duplicity (2,575 screens) and I Love You, Man (2,711 screens). On I Love You, Man's side: strong reviews and interest among young males, who are known for seeing movies on opening weekend. The Julia Roberts-Clive Owen spy romance, to its credit, has a taut, screwball feel to it, and slick dialogue--but it's trailing I Love You, Man by 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, 78% to 66%. It's worth pointing out that Knowing received just 25% on the review aggregating site, indicating that it might not be able to push through to the number one spot. I can attest that I Love You, Man is surprisingly good, and a "bromance" that nonetheless appeals to the female demographic, so I hope rising stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segal can gave it a number one finish, and that Duplicity can pick up audiences next weekend, which will be dominated by the release of family flick Monsters vs. Aliens.

This week is a crowded one for specialty films, so choose wisely from the ones FJI has reviewed. The Great Buck Howard (47 screens) stars John Malkovich as a has-been magician, and while our reviewer Shirley Sealy found the film so-so, "for true-blue Malkovich fans, it may be unmissable."

Up-and-coming director Cary Fukunaga (read an interview with him here) makes his feature debut with Sin nombre fukunaga

Sin Nombre (6 screens), the tale of Honduran immigrants hitching rides on freight trains to try to sneak across the U.S./Mexico border. Our Executive Editor Kevin Lally praised the director for "[maintaining] a deft balance of justifiably melodramatic plot elements and low-key realism; the horrific moments here never feel false or overemphatic." Violent and poignant, the film provides a counterpoint to the tales of recession woe plaguing the nation. It really could be much, much worse. Fukunaga signed a three-picture deal with Focus and Universal, so be sure to see the film so you can be on top of the next big thing.

Catch a documentary "as seductive and glamorous as high fashion itself" featuring the legendary fashion designer in Valentino: The Last Emperor (NY). Looking for a "quirky little comedy of existential angst?" Go see Bob Funk (NY). "Preppie angst" more your style? Go see The New Twenty (NY). "Dying-to-be-meaningful?" Go see We Pedal Uphill. Not angsty, but a slacker-loser? Have a laugh and see Skills Like This. And with a movie for every mood, we'll regroup with you next Monday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

High concept adaptation: Christie's auction meets rom-com, Pitt and Portman

By Sarah Sluis

Perhaps I shouldn't be saying this on a film blog, but it is a fact universally acknowledged that, most of the time, the book is better than the movie. There are certainly exceptions, even among prize-winning literature--I just finished No Country for Old Men and found the movie to be much better than the book. I Leanne shaptonalso count the dramatization of action-packed pulp novels as a one-up over the writing of John Grisham or Dan Brown. Michael Crichton's work reads as well as it adapts, and the CGI spectacle of Jurassic Park gave me nightmares for literally years. What can be great in print often fails on the screen, and let's mark Watchmen as the latest example.

I'm also a little mixed when it comes to using books as a jumping-off point. He's Just Not That Into You, a romantic comedy based on the comedic self-help book, took two hours to work its way through the romantic couplings of nearly a dozen people. It barely kept the tone of the book (probably a good thing, as the book was kind of like when a friend says something cruel to you, then follows it up with "just kidding"), but at least it helped at the box office, giving the movie the benefit of being a vaguely recognizable property.

I bring this up because of the announcement that this book, Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry (page through it here and here), will be made into a romance. A romantic comedy, specifically. The book by Leanne Shapton, art director for the NY Times, looks like a Christie's auction catalog, and documents a couple's four-year relationship by putting their possessions on display. It's rather archaeological, has that ever-popular element of ironic detachment ("behold exhibit A, a love letter"), and

requires a little bit of detective work and imagination to enjoy, which will certainly make the book popular among snoops, a category I suspect the author belongs to. (Her previous book, Was She Pretty?, is a fictional exploration of a boyfriend's ex-girlfriends, facilitated by the girlfriend's examination of his diaries.)

What I appreciate about (the potential) for this project is how much will be left unsaid. So often, it's "five years later" in movies and stories without a sense of anything meaningful having happened during the Leanne shapton 2

interim. Being able to convey a sense of history, and the sense that characters have many stories left untold--a tone this book excels at simply through its structure--makes for a much richer project. As an added bonus, telling a story through objects allows for easy manipulation of chronology, and, again, that indie sense of irony that comes from explaining a relationship only through objects. Because the book is modeled after a Christie's auction catalog, the project seems very tied to New York and I see a bit of Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally... in the idea, which has yet to attach a writer.

Most promisingly, Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman would play the couple in the project, which was auctioned off to Plan B productions (Pitt's production company). If

you think about it, Portman has a bit of that Angelina Jolie look, so I

suppose that makes their coupling plausible. Less plausible, however, is the idea that the movie will be made in the near future. With seventeen titles in development, Brad Pitt's slate is filled to the brim. Perhaps it's time for him to hold an auction of his own.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New projects: love triangles, interfering parents, and high school reunions

By Sarah Sluis

The love triangle is complete: Adam Scott has been cast as Amy Adam's boyfriend in the upcoming romantic comedy Leap Year. Intent on taking advantage of an Irish legend that says a person cannot I know where im going

turn down a marriage proposal on a leap year, Adams travels to Ireland to propose to her commitment-phobe boyfriend (Scott). She enlists an Irish innkeeper (Matthew Goode, from Watchmen and Brideshead Revisited) to help her track down her boyfriend when bad weather interferes with her plans. Presumably, rain, fog, and close quarters lead Adams and Goode to fall for each other. As I mentioned a few months ago, this film rips off the Powell & Pressburger film I Know Where I'm Going, a delightful romantic comedy that has one of the best first ten minutes of all time, economically setting up the characters and plot at a frenetic pace. Apparently, the similarity has only been noticed by two commenters (according to Google), but I hope the screenwriters give a nod to their inspiration, if only to draw attention to the work of the two talented filmmakers. Powell & Pressburger's films were embraced by many of the Hollywood film brats, like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, but many fans of Scorsese and Coppola haven't taken a close look at P&P's work, and how much these directors have borrowed from them.

Also on the romance-comedy front, Jeremy Garelick, writer of The Break-Up, successfully pitched a story about two best friends whose children fall for each other and are soon expecting a baby. The story will focus on how the romance (and baby) affects the two fathers' friendship. I like this concept, which seems very I Love You, Man (conveniently releasing this week), in that it focuses on male friendship, and doesn't shy away from a certain form of sentimentality. I imagine there will be a little Father of the Bride thrown into the screenplay as well. Because the story is based on Garelick's own life (he married the daughter of his parents' best friends), I'm sure there will be some of those gratifying tidbits that are so weird they could only be true.

Lastly, Adam Sandler's untitled high school reunion comedy has added more A(ish)-listers to its cast: Salma Hayek will play Sandler's wife, and Maya Rudolph will play Chris Rock's wife. Kevin James, David Spade and Rob Schneider are already on board. Colin Quinn was also cast, but his role was not specified. Given that the film revolves around five best friends who reunite after thirty years, my guess is that Quinn will play their mutual enemy, or a partner to one of the five men. The Fourth of July-set pic starts shooting this summer and is set to release March 2010. Not a moment too soon, in my opinion, as the rise of Facebook and other social networking sites throws a curveball into the "long-lost-friend" trope. At the very least, screenwriters should already be incorporating some lines that make oblique references to Googling people.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

J.J. Abrams to produce diamond heist film

By Sarah Sluis

Today's project-to-watch is J.J. Abrams' pickup of a Wired story on an unsolved jewel heist. The alleged mastermind of the crime, Leonardo Notarbartolo, served ten years based on circumstantial evidence. Diamond1

Just released from prison this week, he spilled his story to writer Joshua Davis (a CAA-represented freelancer who executive produces films based on his articles).

The play-by-play has all the twists and tricks that make for a fantastic heist film. In fact, one of the ploys used in Ocean's 11 actually took place. The team recreated a vault that they used for dry runs, practicing disabling the different devices (who knew hairspray could disable a heat sensor?) and enabling them to carry out their work in the dark. The whole thing comes undone when Notarbartolo's partner goes crazy and has a panic attack after two days of being awake, strewing evidence they had intended to burn later--although the photograph of the garbage left behind doesn't look that blown around, so maybe Notarbartolo is stretching the truth. The topper to the whole story is the double cross. After completing the heist, the team realizes their take is around $20

million instead of the $100 million they expected. Notarbartolo

believes that the jeweler who initiated the heist tipped off his fellow jewelers, telling them to keep their gems out of the vault and then later claim they were stolen, thus committing insurance fraud.

Many of these moments just fly off the page, and would make for the perfect adaptation for someone like J.J. Abrams, whose work on "Lost" demonstrates a knack for intricate plots, divided allegiances, and unexpected twists. He also recently bought a New York Times story about a family who enlisted architects to build a puzzle into their house, which his Bad Robot production company will produce. With so many successes at age 42, and the eagerly anticipated Star Trek releasing this May, it appears there's much in store for the writer/director/producer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

'Witch Mountain' makes it to the top

By Sarah Sluis

Race to Witch Mountain overtook Watchmen this weekend, earning $25 million to grab the number one spot. But the $25 million box office isn't as high as many of the other top films this year. Tyler Perry's Dwayne johnson witch mountain

Madea Goes to Jail
and Friday the 13th, for example, both opened to around $40 million, and Watchmen to $55 million. Race to Witch Mountain's take puts it alongside #1 films Taken and He's Just Not That Into You, both of which opened in the high twenties range.

Expect more family movies with Dwayne Johnson now that he's buried his "The Rock" moniker and recast himself as the tough-guy-who-goes-soft, kid-friendly star. His next foray into the Arnold Schwarzennegger "Kindergarten Cop" territory will be November's Tooth Fairy, where he will play a tough hockey player (who presumably has knocked out more than his fair share of teeth) sentenced to serve one week as a tooth fairy.

At number two, Watchmen's 67% drop to $18 million was an unwelcome plummet that jeopardizes its profitability. The studio expects the drop will slow next week, and the film will be able to recoup its $150 million production and $50 million marketing costs eventually, but it's certainly not happening at the U.S. box office. Even with sub-50% drops, it would take the film almost two months to cross $100 million. Because studios planned around Watchmen, assuming the movie's big budget posed a box-office threat, no other comic book movies open until May 1st, when X-Men Origins: Wolverine releases. However, while the field is wide open from an event film perspective, plenty of films appealing to the Watchmen demographic--even Last House on the Left--will draw in moviegoers who have heard or read so-so reviews.

The horror remake Last House on the Left opened third at $14.6 million, coming in on the low side. Still, the movie's release far exceeded the number ten film, Miss March, which opened to just $2.3 million. All the returning films dropped from 9-39%, excellent numbers that show moviegoers are rewarding satisfyingAmy adams emily blunt sunshine cleaning

entertainment over hype, as unexpected successes Taken and Paul Blart: Mall Cop continue to draw in audiences, along with the perennial Slumdog.

Opening on just four screens, Sunshine Cleaning earned an astonishing $53,000 per screen, helped, no doubt, by the star power of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Its excellent showing will no doubt ramp up plans for its expansion.

Next week, comedy I Love You, Man opens along with Julia Roberts-Clive Owen spy romance Duplicity and sci-fi thriller Knowing, which stars Nicolas Cage, so look for the round-up this Friday.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Will moviegoers' destination be 'Last House on the Left' or 'Witch Mountain'?

By Sarah Sluis

After Watchmen's disappointing debut, its make-or-break moment comes this week. Its drop, which I predict will be at least in the 50% range, will seal the movie's fate as a dud or just a so-so adaptation. If Race to witch mountain

it can manage to hold on to half the box office it had last week, it can likely be judged a success, but an entirely possible 70-something drop would spell nuclear apocalypse for Dr. Manhattan (although it's not like he really dies anyway).

The two candidates for number one this week are Race to Witch Mountain (3,187 screens) and Last House on the Left (2,401 screens). The two remakes of 1970s films have eager, built-in audiences, and Race to Witch Mountain has good reviews on top of that. Our Daniel Eagan characterized Witch Mountain's update as one for a "new generation of viewers [who are] accustomed to videogames and in-jokes," and A.O. Scott pointed out that while 1970s Disney live-action films were "kind of strange and spooky," Race to Mountain is more "loud and dazzling" and bursting with special effects, forgetting that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is himself a kind of special effect.

The update of Last House on the Left abhors ambiguity, makings its characters practice good violence and bad violence, instead of viewing bloody revenge as the kind of spot you just can't rub out. While the Last house on the left 2

blogosphere has expressed some concern and outrage over the film's brutal rape scene, in addition to its expected violence, I am intrigued by the premise, which has more resonance than a typical horror film: it's based on a film by Ingmar Bergman, which in turn was based on a 1300s folk ballad about a family that takes revenge on a daughter's rapist. Repentant for the violence they had committed, they built a church to atone for their sins. There's also something a bit Oedipal about taking in and caring for a stranger, only to discover they raped and/or murdered a family member. Oh, fate, which may or may not be discernible through the "hilarious modern twists" involving microwave ovens.

Combining Playboy, road trips, and the "look what happened while I was in a coma!" plot conceit, Miss March (1,742 screens) looks Miss march

like a film many will not 'miss' given its predilection for scatological humor. Instead, catch necro-gross-out with Sunshine Cleaning (4 screens, expanding next week), the indie film starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as specialists who clean up after dead bodies, especially suicides. I found it lacking the spirit of its cousin Little Miss Sunshine, but it certainly beats Miss March. Also opening is Tokyo Sonata, the story of an unemployed man who can't bear to tell his family, and Carmen & Geoffrey, a documentary about an artistic New York City power couple.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Danny DeVito is sold on electronics huckster biopic 'Crazy Eddie'

By Sarah Sluis

The Wall Street-themed development streak continues in Danny DeVito's announcement that he will helm Crazy Eddie, a biopic of electronics king Eddie Antar. His 43-store chain of low-priced electronics outlets used skimming and off-the-books workers to boost the company's profitability, which the family was able Eddie_Antar_arrest_warrant

to sustain as a privately owned entity. Antar even sent his nephew to accounting school, enlisted him as his CFO, and went public in the 1980s. The increased limelight led not only to a hostile takeover, but to a close examination by investors that revealed his fraudulent activity.

Although not quite as extreme as the businessman who crashed his airplane to fake his own death, Antar fled to Israel for three years before eventually being extradited and serving seven years in prison, ensuring there's some drama to the tale. Also, under the "miscellaneous information" in his arrest warrant, he is described as a "heavy drinker," ensuring there will be some alcohol-fueled blow-outs in the film.

Among consumers, Crazy Eddie's was known for its ridiculously emphatic low-budget commercials, the kind you see in the background of crime thrillers when the big dumb guy is holding someone hostage.

Since the movie is being scripted by Peter Steinfeld, who wrote the slick card-counting adaptation 21, I imagine the tone will be somewhat similar. De Vito himself has played an unscrupulous businessman before, in Matilda, which he also directed, and his credits are full of films that feature dishonest professionals, making Crazy Eddie a perfect project for him to pursue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

'New Moon' for Dakota Fanning

By Sarah Sluis

A teen actress who has yet to play a role in a teen-oriented film, Dakota Fanning will make her teen idolworthy debut by appearing in the Twilight sequel, New Moon, as Jane, a "sweet but sneaky" vampire.

Shrewdly, Fanning has played roles in both adult and family films throughout her career, never banking on her popularity with only one demographic. However, her choices have also led to a somewhat fractured screen persona. Many of her roles in family or children-oriented films could easily slip under the radar of someone who only saw her as a vulnerable child in thrillers and action films (Man on Fire, Hide & Seek, War of the Worlds) or the occasional role in an inter-generational female-oriented film (The Secret Life of Bees, Uptown Girls). Among films targeted towards children and their families, Fanning has starred not only in current release Coraline, but also big literary adaptations Charlotte's Web and The Cat in the Hat. Now that she's a teenager, she's chosen two teen-themed pictures for her next projects.

Dakota Fanning young

Dakota Fanning old

Her choice to appear in New Moon will be her second team-up with Twilight star Kristen Stewart, with whom she will co-star in The Runaways, a movie about the 1970s teen band. Stewart will play guitarist/songwriter Joan Jett, while Fanning will play lead singer Cherie Currie. While it's unknown exactly how they plan to script the rock biopic, hopefully the filmmakers will include a few juicy details of the rock star life. The transition from child to teen to adult actor is notoriously tough, but the strategic casting of Fanning (although let's ignore the indie film with the much publicized child rape scene, Hounddog, that inspired outrage) could propel her into a career like that of Jodie Foster or Drew Barrymore.

Monday, March 9, 2009

'Watchmen' underwhelms fans, box office, with $55 million opening

By Sarah Sluis

Watchmen was no 300. Expectations were high that Zack Snyder's new film would meet or exceed his 300's $70.8 million opening, but the weekend brought in $55.6 million for the comic book adaptation, Watchmen silk spectre

which has suffered from a general consensus of mediocrity. An avid comic book fan who turned out to see the movie on Saturday told me, "Snyder tried to make Watchmen like 300. The thing about Watchmen that made it different was that it was all about characters, and he made it all about action." Pan.

From a box-office perspective, the worst thing about Watchmen was not its sub-300 performance, but its drop-off over the weekend, which can be a sign of the movie's performance in weeks to come. On Friday (which included Thursday midnight screenings) it pulled in $25.1 million, then on Saturday it dropped 25% to $19 million, and on Sunday it dropped an additional 40% to $11.5 million. Comic book fans saw the movie, but they didn't recommend it to their friends. People that might see a comic book film that's highly recommended, like The Dark Knight, opted out of this one. Compared to Watchmen, 300 dropped off 12% on Saturday and 26% on Sunday. 300 only made $3 million more on its Friday debut than Watchmen, but it was able to hold its performance through the weekend.

I would not be surprised it Watchmen dropped over 50% next week. The surprisingly robust recession box office has sustained many films week-over-week, but it's also been brutal to a select few. This weekend, the only film to drop more than 50% was the Jonas Brothers movie, which plummeted 77%, indicating that the Jonas Brothers are so over, or that the target audience just wasn't deep enough. The brothers are no Hannah Montana.

Below Watchmen, the bottom nine films all did light business, earning between $2-8 million each. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail came it at #2 with $8.8 million, followed by Taken at $7.4 million, which has benefited from word-of-mouth that the film is a solid ride. Slumdog Millionaire settled just below that at #4, doing $6.9 million in business. Besides kid pics Coraline and the Jonas Brothers, the rest of the top ten was filled with iterations of comedies. While Madea rode up top at #2, below that there were teen boy comedies Paul Blart: Mall Cop (#5) and Fired Up (#10), and female-skewing He's Just Not That Into You (#6) and Confessions of a Shopaholic (#8).

Next week another entry in the teen comedy genre, Miss March, opens in wide release, along with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's remake of Race to Witch Mountain (I'm still sentimental over my cable viewings of the 1975 version), and horror film The Last House on the Left.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Big weekend release 'Watchmen' ticks off critics

By Sarah Sluis

The only wide opening this weekend, everyone is going to be watching the Watchmen on one of the 3,611 screens in its release. Zack Snyder's adaptation of the epic comic book recently outsold the advance Silk spectre ii watchmen

tickets purchased for 300, the film whose $70.9 million opening weekend set a March record While the movie will certainly open big, and has the saturation press coverage to support its debut, people who have actually seen the movie have surprisingly uniform complaints.

First and foremost, it's all surface area and no depth. It tries to cover everything but can't spend enough time with a scene to allow us to get emotionally invested in the narrative or characters. Various ways this can be said include:

"Ironically, the problem with the screenplay isn't that the writers leave too much out�it's that they cram too much in."--Ethan Alter, FJI
"[To] a mid-80s college softmore...the dense involution of the narrative might have seemed exhilarating rather than exhausting." --A.O. Scott, NY Times
"Yet even Watchmen fanatics may be doomed to a disappointment that results from trying to stay this faithful to a comic book...He doesn't move the camera or let the scenes breathe. He crams the film with bits and pieces, trapping his actors like bugs wriggling in the frame."--Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

Almost as universal as the cry that Snyder has tried to include too much, is the feeling that the film is too long. I actually feel that if Snyder "let the scenes breathe," as Gleiberman advised, Watchmen would have felt shorter. With a two-hour, forty-minute running time, we end up pondering over the previous scene as the next is already halfway over, pulling us further out of the story. My screening audience was fairly fidgety, especially during the film's last legs. The Blackberry-checking was ever-present, but I like to think the presence of light pollution (my pet peeve) is more related to the manners of those sitting next to me than the actual quality of the film.

A.O. Scott, echoing the complaints of many, also finds the film's 1980s Cold War nihilism an artifact, no longer a part of the cultural zeitgeist. Perhaps this is true for those who lived through those years, butWatchmen_new york city

the 18-25s who were Eighties babies and think that the excessive graffiti is set design, not an actual reflection of reality, don't fall in that category. Sure, the social commentary is more suited to a period twenty years ago, but that doesn't make it less a historical artifact.

One last problem I had was the utter obviousness of the musical choices. These were songs straight out of Forrest Gump, the go-to songs of a generation, and just another example of the lack of depth and overstuffed nature of the film. Even A.O. Scott devoted a few words to a particularly overused musical choice, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah:"

"(By the way, can we please have a moratorium on the use of this song in movies? Yes, I too have heard there was a secret chord that David played, and blah blah blah, but I don't want to hear it again. Do you?)"

On that note, I'd like to add that the Jeff Buckley version of this song appeared on literally every teen soap opera a couple years ago, sapping the song of any claim to novelty. Along with "Hallelujah" there's Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin,'" "The Sound of Silence," and "99 Luftballoons." Ironic use of "Unforgettable" by Nat "King" Cole? Check. These are songs we have heard again and again, and signs of a huge musical budget blown by hitting only the most obvious notes.

My conclusion: Watchmen will open big, but it will be a huge embarrassment if it doesn't break 300's opening. After opening weekend, word-of-mouth can't be good on this thing. People will see it to see it, but they're not going to be bugging their friends to see it too, and they're not going to go back more than once.

Co-creator of Watchmen Alan Moore took his name off the film, wanting no money, no credit, nothing to do with a project he dubbed "unfilmable." Like his character the Comedian, he's having the last laugh.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

So what's going to be post-'Watchmen'?

By Sarah Sluis

For all the hype about Watchmen, it's left many of the initial viewers feeling empty, unsatisfied, and just plain 'meh' (more on that tomorrow from me, though you can read Ethan Alter's review now). So if the anticipation regarding Watchmen is already over, maybe it's time to see what's next for director Zack Snyder, who wowed audiences with 300?

The answer: Suckerpunch. The "all-female" fighting film stars a cast of women, locked up in a

sanatorium, who retreat to a fantasy world where they can physically assert themselves in ways they can't in the real world. The movie, which Snyder boils down to a high-concept log line, "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns," will center on one girl, locked up by her father and scheduled for a lobotomy. What really got me excited about this project is the casting. Cinematical reports Amanda Seyfried might play the lead, and young stars Vanessa Hudgens, Evan Rachel Wood, Abbie Cornish, and Emma Stone have been floated around as members of the supporting cast. Perhaps Snyder is going for the flip side of that 18-25 male demographic.

The idea that casting women in an action film makes it appealing to them, though, is completely false, and cinema has a fairly uneven track record in that regard. I'm all about seeing women in action roles (Wanted, Charlie's Angels, Alien...Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Coffy were films that had both the good, the bad, the exploitative, and the subversive), but many times the female characters are presented more as an object than a character one can identify with or aspire to be in her shoes. As a female viewer, what I care more about than a female character's portrayal is whether I perceive they have knowledge and control over their situation. This, I think, makes any film more interesting. However, since the trailer/costuming alone deters me from many female heroine actioners (i.e. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Elektra) that I suspect would have nothing of interest for me, I can't comment on how these films actually play out.

Zack deborah snyder

Director Zack Snyder and Producer Deborah Snyder

More detail about Suckerpunch, however, should be forthcoming, and will help sort out the admittedly sketchy information right now. For example, while the blog reports that the screenplay will be Snyder's first original work, IMDB lists Adam Rifkin as the writer. Since a release date has already been set for the film, which is planned for October 8, 2010 (note that it's not scheduled for the summer peak time, although that could be a red herring), it's safe to say that more details about the project should come to light after execs see Watchmen's opening weekend and the level of its second week drop-off.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Payne enlists Giamatti, Witherspoon, and Baron Cohen in 'Downsizing'

By Sarah Sluis

In the kind of casting decision which is why we cover casting decisions, writer/director Alexander Payne has cast Paul Giamatti, Reese Witherspoon, and Sacha Baron Cohen in his next project, about a man who copes with the recession by shrinking himself. He's "downsizing," if you will, which will also be the title of the film.



I can't think of a more bizarre clash of film personas, nor such a fantastical, Charlie Kaufman-like premise from a director who has focused on the decidedly more realistic: Sideways, About Schmidt, Election, and Citizen Ruth. Payne hasn't finished the script, meaning the details are subject to change (as well as the casting decision--no one will be officially signed until the script is complete).

The sketched-out plot goes something like this: Paul Giamatti, a man hard on luck and short on money, decides to make himself smaller. Witherspoon plays his love interest, a (full-sized) woman he meets on his journey. Cohen would play a double role, a tiny Spaniard who likely thinks his life is great and models the miniature lifestyle for Giamatti, and his full-sized brother.

Payne is known for his dark satires, and has worked with both Witherspoon (Election) and Giamatti (Sideways) before. I do think that Payne's black comedy + weird plot quirk approximates Kaufman, although admittedly Kaufman's screenplays tend to use these devices to move back and forth between different worlds or time periods, instead of choosing something and running with it, which is the route I suspect Payne will choose.

Also on board the project is Jim Taylor, who has co-written all of Payne's directorial projects. After Payne finishes the script, it will make the rounds at Fox Searchlight, where Payne has a first-look deal. Because of the special effects involved (although isn't shrinking pretty de rigueur and easily executed these days?), some think the studio will balk at the budget, although from my viewpoint, the cast will cost a lot more than the special effects.

The film joins a number being made about the recession, which hopefully will be in the past once this set of films release. Fox is making a sequel to Wall Street, Baz Luhrmann has his eye on The Great Gatsby, and Ridley Scott plans to make his Monopoly board game adaptation relevant to current economic conditions. I'm all for these projects, but where are the glitzy musicals about poor showgirls scraping by with their dimes from the can-can lines? I want my Depression-era musicals!

Monday, March 2, 2009

'Madea' beats 'Jonas Brothers' at the box office

By Sarah Sluis

Contrary to industry expectations, last week's Madea Goes to Jail won the weekend, earning 30% more than the debut of Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience. Alas, teen audiences are fickle, and the Jonas brothers concert movie

teen idol on everyone's wall and bedsheets one day becomes the thing to be "too cool for" the next. With so many other projects in the pipeline, including their own television show, does this mean the popularity of the Jonas Brothers has already peaked, or is their awareness still just way lower than Hannah Montana? On the plus side, the 3D concert film had the second highest per-screen average of the week, beat only by its 3D competitor, Under the Sea 3D, which is in release on just 51 screens.

The other new release, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, snuck in at number eight, Madea_jail

earning $4.6 million. A straight-up genre choice with a small release and even smaller marketing budget, its top ten showing is probably in line with expectations.

Best Picture victor Slumdog Millionaire (its "Best Song" "Jai Ho" means "may victory be yours") expanded its release and brought in $12.1 million, its highest weekend gross to date. The movie has been in release for four months, and just crossed the $100 million mark last week, and with this weekend its gross is $115 million. Not bad, especially for a film purported to have a roughly $15 million production budget (who doesn't like to have a 1000% return?), but the marketing costs over the four-month period most likely make a significant cut into their profits.

Although outside of the top ten, the pictures winning Best Actor and Best Actress saw their grosses jump. Milk, for which Sean Penn won the Best Actor Oscar, saw a 37% increase at the box office, and The Reader, the movie Kate Winslet received the Best Actress win for, received a 10% boost. Doubt, The Wrestler, and Frost/Nixon all decreased, despite their publicity at the Oscar ceremony.

Among the returnees to the top ten, Taken, at number four with $9.9 million, is probably taking the market that would have gone to see The International (#14; $2.8 million) had it been any good. Both in the Top Ten, He's Just Not That Into You (#5; $5.8 million; $78.5 million) has had a much more lasting presence than Confessions of a Shopaholic (#9; $4.4 million; $33.6 million).

Delightful Coraline, which deserved to do well at the box office so more films like it can be made, has racked up $61 million over four weeks, including a $5.2 million showing this weekend at number seven. Its precipitous five-place drop in the top ten (it finished at number two last weekend) and 54% decrease in take probably comes from a decline in its 3D venues, as theatres shifted to the Jonas Brothers film.

Coming up this weekend, everyone is going to be watching the Watchmen, to see if its so-so reviews decrease its fan fervor, or galvanizes a group determined to see the comic book film years in the making.