Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas will return for 'Wall Street 2'

By Sarah Sluis

Perhaps you recall that last October, Fox planned to fast-track a sequel to 1987's Wall Street. Well, six months later, they've resurfaced to announce that two of the originals are on board: Oliver Stone Wall-street has agreed to direct, and Michael Douglas will reprise his Oscar-winning performance as Gordon Gekko.

Allan Loeb, who adapted the screenplay for 21 as well as upcoming film The Baster, has been writing the sequel, and apparently the strength of the story he turned in helped win over Stone to the project. THR mentions that this project has been in development for some time, and a quick check of IMDB reveals a project called Money Never Sleeps, which may be the script Allan Loeb rewrote, or chucked.

While details

of the movie, now titled Wall Street 2, have not been revealed, six months ago the plan was to pick

up Gekko's story after he is released from jail. Shia LaBoeuf is in talks

to play a newbie, Charlie Sheen-like character that Gekko mentors, much like in the original film.

No word on where the movie will position itself in the financial

crisis. Will it dial back a couple years and let the audience revisit

the collapse of all the major banks, or position the characters as

looking to profit from the recession? Production is on track to start this summer, which puts the film at a 2010 release, and Edward R. Pressman, who produced the first film, will also handle the second.

Still, one of the greatest liabilities of this project is what I'll call the Iraq War effect. Movies like The Lucky Ones were being put into production constantly when the war was a hot topic, only to open in empty theatres because the movies either seemed not relevant enough to someone totally separated from the war, or too close to home for those with friends and family involved in the war. Or, perhaps, maybe they just weren't good enough?

I saw the original Wall Street long after 80's excess had waved good-bye, but the film still worked for me because it made the 80's seem as epic and recognizable as the considerably more distant Roaring 20's. Plus, the film wasn't dependent on being a homage to the age: it had a great script, direction, and unforgettable performances. Will the sequel to Wall Street be able to position itself as timeless even as views on the financial crisis and recession continue to change? Stone's most recent film, W., managed to do well even when though it released October 17th, on the eve of the election, during a time when public opinion of the President could have swung in any direction. If anyone can handle a story that's giving a historical perspective on the modern day, it's Stone.

Tales of Downtown decline at Tribeca: The end of CBGB, the collapse of Wall Street

By Kevin Lally

One of the strengths of the Tribeca Film Festival has always been its selection of documentaries, which play a prominent role in its programming. The Festival's quest for a New York connection in its films is also on display in two revealing documentaries that deal with very different aspects of the Downtown Manhattan scene: Burning Down the House, the story of the rise and fall of the legendary Bowery rock club CBGB, and American Casino, an incisive look at the short-sighted thinking and exploitation of minority communities that led to the subprime mortgage fiasco and the collapse of Wall Street.

Burning Down the House is directed by Mandy Stein, the daughter of Sire Records founder Seymour BURNINGDOWNTHEHOUSE_STILL1 Stein and Linda Stein, the onetime manager of seminal punk band The Ramones, who was found murdered in her penthouse in October 2007. Both of her parents are interviewed in the film. On the scene at CBGB from the age of three, Mandy Stein began this project four years ago when she first learned the club was in danger of closing due to its back-rent dispute with its landlord, the Bowery Residence Committee, a homeless-outreach organization.

Opened in 1973, CBGB was the launching pad for some of rock's most influential artists of the 1970s and 80s, includingThe Ramones, The Police, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie and Television. Many of those colorful musicians appear in the movie, paying tribute to the club's iconoclastic founder, Hilly Kristal. There's plenty of nostalgic footage of performances and the club's dessicated decor, including its notoriously gross bathrooms (which give the men's room in Trainspotting some pungent competition).

Despite an aggressive campaign to save the club from eviction and have this "filthy hole" declared a city landmark, the fate of CBGB apparently came down to bad blood between Kristal and Muzzy Rosenblatt, the director of the Bowery Residence Committee. The club closed in October 2006 (after a final concert including Patti Smith and Blondie documented here), and now its awning and part of its zany interiorare poignantly on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York's Soho. Kristal died of lung cancer in August 2007. In true punk spirit, Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth is filmed on closing night shouting, "Whoever takes over this space is cursed!"

A curse of a different kind was cast on the many poor suckers who fell for the lure of subprime mortagages during the home-ownership frenzy that fueled the collapse of our financial system. Leslie Cockburn's aptly titled American Casino chronicles the unconscionable scam of speculation that played with and profited from the lives of naive first-time home buyers. Pointing out the illusory nature of the mortgage boom, Bloomberg reporter Mark Pittman notes, "I don't think most people really understood that they were in a casino. When you're in the Street's casino, you've got to play by their rules."

Cockburn's film contrasts the young Turks of Wall Street with a group of victims of the subprime shell game in an African-American neighborhood in Baltimore. According to the film, African-Americans were 3.8 times more likely to be given subprime loans in 2006, even though more than 60% of these same people actually qualified for less risky prime loans. One of the most affecting of the victims is Patricia McNair, an elegant clinical therapist at Johns Hopkins, whom Cockburn follows throughout her failed attempt to hold onto her home.

By contrast, an anonymous Bear Stearns analyst points out that agents along the real-estate value chain were always paid upfront and had "no skin in the game." In fact, some speculators profited handsomely from betting against people's ability to pay off their loans.

The film at times gets too caught up in the minutiae of financial schemes for anyone without an MBA degree, but it's an often devastating history of the greed, cynicism and short-term myopia that got us all into this current mess. "The Party's Over" plays sardonically on the soundtrack; let's hope American Casino adds to the sobriety.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Russell Brand becoming 'Drop Dead Fred'

By Sarah Sluis

One of my favorite childhood movies, Drop Dead Fred (1991), is being remade for the next generation. Phoebe Cates, who I only now recognize as the "Fast Times at Ridgemont High girl," starred in the original as a down-and-out grownup who loses her job and her husband

and moves back home, only to be greeted by her very real, very

invasive, long-lost imaginary friend, Fred, played by Brit Rik Mayall. The premise understates the totally bizarre, gross, and comic interactions between Cates and Mayall that ensue, so I'm not surprised to hear that the movie was "critically drubbed and commercially unsuccessful." However, the repeated viewings of my cousins, brother and me did not go unnoticed, as THR pointed out that "it did achieve a certain cult status and is considered a film that fell short of its full potential."

Drop dead fredRussell_brand

I can see why. At the time, the movie really bothered me, both because Cates vacillated between covering for her imaginary friend Fred so she wouldn't appear crazy, and unsuccessfully explaining his presence, and, most importantly, because Drop Dead Fred would be so mean to her and cause so many problems in her life. The very fact that these choices made the film so uncomfortable to watch also made it appealing to see again and again, as if finally, this time, it wouldn't bother you so much.

What really makes this project sparkle is the choice of British funnyman Russell Brand to play Drop Dead Fred. I can't think of a better star to lead this project. For those who haven't seen him in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, watched a red carpet interview, or paged through his bestselling memoir My Booky Wook, Brand is Drop Dead Fred: self-involved to the point that he's destructive to others, irreverent and insulting, but absolutely entertaining to be around. Like many great comedians, he is a bit unhinged, just like the imaginary friend. Dennis McNicholas (Land of the Lost, "SNL") will write the screenplay, which plans to expand the idea of "imaginary friends" into a universe. I think the film could be helped by having a more complete cinematic world, since the first film played very loose with the "rules and regulations" of imaginary friends. Still, that openness that drove me nuts was the very reason I watched the film again and again. I'm sure the choice will make the remake more likely to be a commercial hit this time around, but feeling satisfied, instead of maddened, at the finish might preclude it from becoming a cult hit.

Clips abound on YouTube, check out the British-accented Fred wreaking havoc here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Audiences 'Obsessed' with Beyonc

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend's top draw at the box office was Obsessed, a thriller about a married man and his workplace stalker. Star Beyonc helped draw in female viewers, nudging the Sony Screen Gems picture to $28.5 million, its Beyonce Obsessed Idris Elba second-highest open after another kind of horror film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Obsessed earned over double the gross of the runner-up, 17 Again. The Zac Efron starrer dropped 50% from last week to finish at $11.6 million.

At number three, Fighting brought in $11.4 million from the genre audience, and, despite a title ripe for mocking, earned a 38% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Earning $8.5 million, Earth bragged the best open ever for a nature film, a boon for the new Disneynature label, which already has a follow-up, Oceans, planned for Earth Day 2010. Even with a star-studded cast, a pedigree director, and little competition, The Soloist earned a light $9.7 million. The music tale failed to hit the right note, and had little to entice audiences.

At number six, Monsters vs. Aliens continued to enjoy the long box-office ride characteristic of animated children's films, and especially 3D ones. In its fifth week of release, it earned $8.5 million while dropping just 35%, the smallest decrease of any top ten film. Compare that to third-weeker Tyson Hannah Montana: The Movie, which dropped 58% its first week, and slightly curbed its fall this week to 52%, grossing $6.3 million.

On the specialty side, Bret Easton Ellis adaptation The Informers, Sundance's "designated punching bag," continued its beating, earning just $622 per theatre to bring in $300,000 at #19. On the flip side, Tyson earned $7,818 per theatre across eleven locations, an auspicious open for the documentary. This Friday, X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens alongside romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and 3D animated Battle for Terra.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are you 'Obsessed,' 'Fighting,' or in the mood for 'The Soloist'?

By Sarah Sluis

Leading the pack of this week's releases is The Soloist (2,024 theatres). The feel-good story of a friendship between a newspaper reporter and a talented schizophrenic homeless man comes off as The soloist"sensitive but surprisingly unmoving," according to our critic Wendy Weinstein. While the story may fail to move, you can spend your time observing the technical expertise behind the project. The cinematography is impeccable, and the use of sound is Raging Bull-level, all the more fitting given the troubled musician at the center of the film. The acting of Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., too, stirs up no objections. Still, this drama was moved from awards season for a reason, so I doubt that the film will be the number one finish of the week.

Also in wide release are Obsessed (2,514 theatres) and Fighting (2,310 theatres), two exploitative-sounding films with titles that seem to sum Obsessed up the plots. Obsessed, which didn't screen for critics, is a Fatal Attraction-type movie that pits Ali Larter of TV's "Heroes" against Beyonce. Larter, a temp worker, seduces Beyonce's husband, then uses all the violence and sex she can muster to destroy the couple. Fighting, more specifically, is about underground fights in New York City, the kind "around which ungodly amounts of money float in terms of bets and a winner-take-all purse," and "nobody's very smart." They join Disneynature's Earth (1,804 theatres), which has already racked up $4 million since it released on its Earth Day opening.

On the specialty front, the stylistic tale of a real-life corrupt Italian politician, Il Divo, releases in Manhattan, joined by Buenos Aires-set drama Empty Nest (NY), a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, The Informers (482 theatres), a Korean drama that offers a "glowing reminiscence of a difficult childhood," Treeless Mountain (NY), and Mike Tyson documentary Tyson (11 theatres).

Next week kicks off the summer movie season with the release of X-Men: Wolverine, so check back for the start of the blockbuster rollout.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

David Slade directing 'Eclipse'; Diaz, Banks to star in workplace comedies

By Sarah Sluis

Busy filming the follow-up to Twilight, New Moon, Summit is wasting no time putting together the third film, Eclipse. Trying to capture their teen audience before they age out of the series (not that the Twilight Harry Potter films have had that problem), they've brought on a different director for each film to speed up the process. David Slade will direct the third installment. He's no stranger to vampires, having recently directed horror film 30 Days of Night. A more interesting part of his resume is Hard Candy. At the time, our reviewer Frank Lovece called it a "low-budget gem" that starred "a little-known American actor and an award-winning 17-year-old Nova Scotian actress," otherwise known as Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Ellen Page (Juno) The plot, which seems reminiscent of Japanese torture-romance horror films, involves an online romance between the two actors, one playing a fourteen-year-old, the other a thirty-two-year-old photographer. When they meet, the young girl drugs and abuses the photographer, who she wants to punish for being a pedophile. With horror and torture under his belt, Slade seems an unusual choice for the director spot. However, when you're dealing with a love triangle where one character must resist his urges to murder his girlfriend, Slade's background sounds right on target.

On a lighter note, Cameron Diaz is in final talks to play an ambulance-chasing lawyer in workplace comedy Bobbie Sue.

She goes from the streets to a gig at a prestigious law firm when

they decide Cameron diaz the tough, pretty blonde would be a strategic face for a

sexual discrimination suit. I can only hope this means Diaz has abandoned

her plans to play an "acerbic" wingman in Swingles, the obnoxiously titled film that had me groaning. While I suspect there's a romance in the film along the lines of Gerard Butler-Katherine Heigl in upcoming The Ugly Truth, the details of the plot have not been released. Since workplace comedy seems to be the new romantic comedy, Elizabeth Banks announced she will star in Forever 21 for DreamWorks. Though the high-concept plot has not been released, there are no indications that it is related to discount clothing store Forever 21.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Summer season gets some competition

By Sarah Sluis

Hollywood used to have a scheduling formula: blockbusters and tentpoles in the summer, awards films in the winter, and more blockbusters to cover the winter holidays and Easter/spring break. While the logic makes sense, it's left many moviegoers high and dry when they want to see a good Wolverine film at an off time. There's nothing worse than wanting to catch a movie with a friend in late January, only to be faced with stale awards fare or some unappealing horror film or teen comedy.

However, just as television stations colonized the rerun space of summer a few years back, studios are looking hard at the recent succeses of "off-time" movies that opened, like 300, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Taken. In a model that pits quality films against quality and junk against junk, these films managed to rise above the pack, doing consistent business week after week because they were more than "just junk," they (arguably) were films that people would have seen at any time of year.

Fox is jumping on this strategy, and recently moved several of its upcoming films to these less competitive but more and more lucrative slots. Tooth Fairy, the Dwayne Johnson movie planned for a pre-Thanksgiving November 13th release in 2009, has been pushed back to January 22, 2010. Race to Witch Mountain, which Johnson recently starred in, also opened on a slightly off time, March 13 of this year, and racked up $63 million, so the studio can expect similar results.

The comedy Date Night will open on April 9, 2010, also a light time at the box office, but one that coincides with the television schedules of Tina Fey and Steve Carell--expect many commercials for the film during "30 Rock" and "The Office." In another off spot (though coming in around when some lucky students have mid-winter break), the kid fantasy adventure Percy Jackson will release on February 12th.

Like Paramount last year with Iron Man, Fox is pushing the boundaries of "summer movie season." While, like the color white, tentpoles were taboo before Memorial Day, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which has all the markers of a tentpole, will release on May 1st, weeks before the kick-off holiday. The studios's not abandoing the Memorial Day slot, as it's positioned Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian there against Terminator Salvation, but it's front-loading its films that can easily be classified as tentpoles, leaving movies like Fox Searchlight's Jennifer's Body (September 18) to finish up the summer, a time when back to school leads to a temporary drop in the box office.

For me, evenly spacing quality films will lead to more trips to the box office. While I certainly go to the movies more in the summer and the winter, it's because there are more films I want to see, not necessarily because I have more spare time. While I do have some nostalgia for childhood trips to air conditioned theatres during summer break, and seeing a special film the day after Thanksgiving, nostalgia alone does not sell movie tickets (unless we're talking about a drive-in theatre). Making movie marquees appealing year-round is an excellent decision by Fox, and one that many studios will likely follow.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tribeca preview: 'In the Loop' and 'Still Walking'

By Kevin Lally

The eighth annual Tribeca Film Festival, founded by Robert De Niro and his producing partner Jane Rosenthal to help reinvigorate Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001attack, opens tomorrow night with the world premiere of Woody Allen's Whatever Works. Allen's return to his native cityaftera movie retreat to London and Barcelona is an appropriate kickoff for this very New York-oriented event, even if L.A. transplant Larry David is the ultra-curmudgeonly mouthpiece for Allen this time out. The comedy, which has the bald, aging David marrying 21-year-old Evan Rachel Wood, may offer some queasy parallels to Allen's personal life, but itsgeneral attitude is that when it comes to romantic relationships...hey, whatever works.

The Tribeca Festival itself has been taking a hard look at what works (and doesn't) and has slimmed down considerably from its past excess of screening choices. The Fest has been criticized for not being selective enough (especially in its programming of low-budget indies), and for being rather too eager to host Hollywood fluff (the Olsen Twins' New York Minute in 2004 being an especially regrettable choice). The jury's still out on whether something like Nia Vardalos' My Life in Ruins, this year's closing night attraction, is festival-worthy, but this edition's trimmer schedule of 85 features (including 45 world premieres) and 46 shorts, seemsto have a healthy ratio of strong and intriguing contenders.

I've already seen two exceptional Tribeca selections, both from IFC Films and both slated for release this summer: In the Loop and Still Walking.

The BBC production In the Loop is one of the most consistently funny films I've seen in years. The feature In the Loopdebut of director and co-writer Armando Iannucci, this droll political satire is an offshoot of an award-winning BBC TV series, "The Thick of It," which centered on a British government minister and his team of wily spin doctors. For the big-screen incarnation, the scope widens to explore the relationship between Britain and the U.S. in the leadup to an unnamed war (think Iraq).

In a radio interview, the incompetent Minister for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), declares that war is "unforeseeble," then muddies the waters to a murky shade when he tries to revise his comment in a subsequent encounter with the press, proclaimingthatBritain "must be ready toclimb the mountain of conflict."Before long, Simon becomes a pawn in the campaign of State Department honcho LintonBarwick (David Rasche) to fire up support for an invasion in the Middle East.

The film is a true transatlantic ensemble effort, with great comic opportunities for its entire Brit and U.S. cast. Peter Capaldi (Local Hero) is hilarious as the volatile, profane Director of Communications for the Prime Minister, who takes the seething insult to a new level of artistry. Mimi Kennedy, best known from TV's "Dharma and Greg," shines as a high-powered, liberal-leaning diplomat with major dental problems, and James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano himself, gets to show his comic side as a general skeptical of the push toward war. (Well-read, he calls himself "the Gore Vidal of the Pentagon" until someone notes that Vidal is gay.)

Iannucci's film is partly improvised, which is hard to fathom since the witticisms here seem to flow endlessly. The performances straddle that fine line between the absurd and the utterly credible, giving the impression that this outrageous satire isn't really that far from the awful truth. In the Loop debuts at Tribeca on April 27 and opens in theatres on July 24.

IFC was also smart to acquire Still Walking, the latest film from accomplished Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Nobody Knows, After Life). This subtle, poignant and charming drama all takes place in one day, as a 40-year-old art restorer returns for a visit to his elderly parents' home with his new wife, a widow, and her ten-year-old son. The occasion is the 15-year anniversary of the accidental drowning death of his older brother.

Nothing much happens plotwise apart from the tensions revealed within this family of complex and often ornery individuals. Over the course of the film they bicker, make tentative connections, and ultimately reveal the sad distance that will be regretted once the elders are gone forever. Kore-Eda wrote the film in response to the death of his own parents, and there's a refreshing, clear-eyed lack of sentimentality to this portrait that is yet a moving reflection on mortality."We're not normal," one character observes of the family's dysfunction. "These days we're not abnormal," another replies.

Still Walking debuts at Tribeca on April 28 and opens in theatres on August 21.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Teens turn out for Efron's #1 finish, '17 Again'

By Sarah Sluis

Catching the last wave of students on Spring Break, 17 Again won the weekend with $24 million. While the teen comedy opened lower than last week's tween topper Hannah Montana: The Movie, Efron flowers which brought in $32 million in its opening weekend, both Disney-bred stars were able to open a film in the #1 spot, something the Jonas Brothers failed to do this February.

Because Miley Cyrus fans make it a priority to see the film opening weekend, her film dropped 61% from last week, finishing at #4 with $12.6 million. Her next project, The Last Song, penned by Nicholas Sparks, will have almost the same set-up (she will play an out-of-line teen sent to live with her estranged father, instead of her grandparents), so hopefully her fans won't be weary of the premise.

Right below 17 Again, State of Play came in at #2 with $14 million. The journo-political thriller was expected to suffer the same fate as Crowe's fall film Body of Lies, which opened at $12 million, but State of play_crowe tacked on another $2 million to the earlier film's non-intriguing open.

Sequel Crank: High Voltage opened at #6 with $6.5 million, a slightly disappointing performance. The first film, which opened on Labor Day weekend of 2006, brought in $12.8 million. Still, its performance might be enough to greenlight a Crank 3.

Among returning films, Monsters vs. Aliens dropped 40% to earn $12.9 million at #3. Fast & Furious brought in $12.2 million, and Observe and Report slid 60% to $4 million. The controversial comedy's #7 finish will probably be its last in the top ten. The oldest film to make the list, I Love You, Man, brought in $3.3 million in its fifth week in release.

Among specialty films, Every Little Step had the highest per-screen average, earning roughly $9,000 per screen. Second-runner-up Is Anybody There?, which stars Michael Caine and posted a $7,000 per-screen average.

This Friday, no film will release above 2,400 screens, which is on the small side for a wide release. In honor of Earth Day, Disney releases Earth this Wednesday. On Friday, it will be joined by romance-thriller Obsessed, director Joe Wright's The Soloist, and Rogue Pictures' Fighting.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Zac Efron competes for teen crowds in '17 Again'

By Sarah Sluis

Teen girls must be in heaven. Hannah Montana one week, and Zac Efron the next? The hunky star from High School Musical appears in switcheroo tale 17 Again (3,255 theatres). The Warner Bros. Efron comedy borrows a plot familiar to those who have grown up on the iterations of Freaky Friday and Disney TV movies: in this case, Matthew Perry transforms into his 17-year-old self (Zac Efron), using these rather extraordinary circumstances to meddle in his children's lives--when his daughter isn't trying to make out with him.

A star-laden film with highly managed expectations, State of Play (2,803 theatres) offers audiences a bit of that old-school journalism, the kind that had budgets to sniff out corruption. Its reviews have been middling, and it sounds as if the plot has some vertiginous plot twists. If you're less into expose journalism and more into your columnists, you can hold out until next week, and see Robert Downey, Jr. in The Soloist, playing a journalist who befriends a homeless, mentally ill musician (Jamie Foxx) and writes about it in his heartwarming columns.

Perhaps you've seen Bai Ling's outfits, but have you ever seen one of her movies? There's a chance to fix that with Crank: High Voltage (2,223 theatres), directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's sequel to their frenetic 2006 actioner. This time around, the chaos begins when muscular Jason Statham's heart is stolen and replaced with an inferior model. Also, there are car chases.

On the specialty front, the documentary Every Little Step releases in Manhattan and Los Angeles. It follows the making of the revival of A Chorus Line, a musical about the difficulties of casting and Every little step_ typecasting in the theatre business. The whittling down of the cast is a decidedly more subtle version of "American Idol" and its family of reality competition shows: slight changes in pitch, movement, and line delivery send some people to the next round and others home, and trying to figure out exactly what the casting directors notice is a process intriguingly maddening to both the viewer and the actors. Also opening on 20 screens is The Golden Boys, a period "indie romantic comedy" centered on three old men, an unusual premise if I ever heard one.

What if those gooey cocoons in The Matrix were something people--marginalized people, mind you--entered and left willingly to do manual work overseas, while still "safely" situated abroad. In sci-fi thriller Sleep Dealer (18 screens), Mexican workers do their work remotely via giant robot coccoons. Also political without being metaphorical, American Violet (61 screens) tells the real-life story of "a racist raid in rural Texas during the 2000 Presidential election." Oh, and despite this film, the perpetrator is still employed. If you prefer your political films to "[eschew] the violence and agit-prop that inform similar politically themed films, " perhaps Lemon Tree (NYC) will entice you: Director Eran Riklis uses a "strong sense of story, empathy with problems all too human, and a reasoned approach to issues and emotions that feed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Monday, we'll be back to see whose film has better captivated the teen audience-- Will it be Miley Cyrus or Zac Efron?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Advance buzz: '(500) Days of Summer'

By Sarah Sluis

Yesterday I saw (500) Days of Summer, the Sundance sensation that's already captivated bloggers and prompted people to count their calendars down to its July 17th release. The sweet, self-aware film--the 500 days of summer screenwriters call it "postmodern"--can come off as smug or earnest, though I lean towards the latter interpretation. Fox Searchlight picked up the film, a sure sign that it will follow in the footsteps of the studio's other indie successes, Garden State, Juno, and Little Miss Sunshine.

The movie opens by telling us it's not a love story, even though, well, it kind of is. Tonally, the best comparison is Annie Hall: it's telling you a love story that won't have a happy ending, but somehow makes you leave the theatre thinking about the lobster pot-like moments in the movie, not the break-up.

(500) Days of Summer is incredibly playful stylistically. The morning after Tom's first night with Summer, for example, he checks himself out in the car window and sees Harrison Ford in Star Wars. Everyone moves to his beat, and the scene eventually turns into a dance sequence, and a straight-from-Disney animated bluebird flies through the foreground. So how is this not obnoxious? The sequence seems to come from Tom's subjective point-of-view. He's sentimental, he works for a greeting card company, so it makes sense that he would have these fantasies. Music-video director Mark Webb does a great job Summer zooey deschanel keeping the style in check. He avoids hard shifts to fantasy sequences, the kind where the character looks around to see an empty park where a legion of dancers were a moment before, but keeps them slighly loose and open: fun "what ifs" that allow you to share Tom's excitement. Another particularly effective device was a split-screen sequence of Tom attending a party hosted by Summer. The left-hand side shows "Expectations," the right-hand side "Reality," and for a couple minutes we see the scene evolve in different directions. It's a playful style that comes straight from music-videos, but used sparingly, effectively conveys Tom's disappointment. Tom even interacts with the soundtrack. He explains, as "She's Like the Wind" swells in the soundtrack, that he just can't help feeling the music. To me, the style and reflexivity work because Webb is careful to tie each use to Tom's emotions, instead of going willy-nilly just because something would look cool.

With an original, challenging screenplay by Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, and expert direction by first-timer Webb, (500) Days of Summer is going to be the kind of film people love to love, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised to see one of those Garden State-like backlashes where some get annoyed with the film's self-aware cleverness. It's definitely a film that people will want to talk about afterward, and if the reaction is like the standing ovation the film received at Sundance, it looks like it's going to be a particularly happy summer for Fox Searchlight, which is already on a winning streak with Slumdog Millionaire.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jenkins joins 'Eat, Pray, Love;' 'Get Him to the Greek' announces additional cast

By Sarah Sluis

Today's trades announced several new casting choices, as upcoming films pair up their leads.
Eat, Pray, Love
, the book club favorite being made into a film starring one of America's favorite Eatpraylove actresses, Julia Roberts, has made an additional casting decision: Richard Jenkins, who wowed audiences in The Visitor (a film which also used global encounters to foster the character's personal growth), will play a Texan Roberts meets on her worldwide journey to discover herself. The project was put in turnaround last year by Paramount before being picked up by Columbia. I'm not surprised that the project gave at least one studio cold feet. I tried to read the book but couldn't get through the first chapter. It's a book for the Nights in Rodanthe crowd--middle-aged women who find a story of a mid-life crisis appealing. That age group, according to marketing general wisdom, is the most sensitive to reviews, so unless the movie impresses critics and/or their friends, they won't see it.

Get Him to the Greek
, an upcoming Judd Apatow project (releasing April 2010) about an intern (Jonah Hill) tasked with Greek theatre bringing a difficult rocker (Russell Brand) to L.A.'s Greek Theatre, has paired up its leads. "Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss will play Hill's significant other, while Rose Byrne will play Brand's troubled starlet girlfriend. I can only hope she lampoons off-the-wall celebrities as well as Anna Faris did in Lost in Translation. Rounding out the cast, Sean "Puffy" Combs will play a record executive. From my understanding, Brand will play a version of the rehabbed rock star who dated Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Bell announced today that she plans to star in You Again, where she will try to sabotage her brother's engagement to her high school archenemy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

'Spring Awakening' finds McG; 'Date Night' sets its cast

By Sarah Sluis

The ebullient director McG, whose enthusiasm for his projects like Charlie's Angels and Terminator: Salvation is infectious, might just break out into song: he's attached himself as a director/producer to a Spring awakening film adaptation of the Broadway play Spring Awakening. The rock musical, which follows adolescent teens discovering sex and its consequences, has its roots in an 1891 play. McG's exaggerated style, which comes from his experience as a music-video director, may prove to be an asset in adapting a musical, a genre known for its stylistic flair. McG has also worked as a songwriter, which might bond him with original book and lyrics writer Steven Sater, who will work on adapting the project for the screen. Warner Bros. has a first-look deal with McG, but it's possible that the studio will pass on the project, allowing it to be set up independently.

In casting news, the plot for the Steve Carell/Tina Fey romantic comedy Date Night seems to have been further fleshed out. The original synopsis had the duo playing a couple in a funk that turns to regular date nights to revitalize their marriage. Thanks to the additional casting decisions, it now appears that the couple will go on an unforgettable date--in a "one crazy night" kind of way. Mark Wahlberg will flirt with Tina Fey, mistaking her for someone else, which is in turn exacerbated by not-so-smart con James Carell-fey-date-night Franco, who sees the whole thing and entangles the couple in a criminal mess. Taraji P. Henson, the Oscar nominee (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) known for her work in Tyler Perry's films, will play a good cop who tries to save the couple from danger, while rapper Common and "David Letterman" guest star Jimmi Simpson play a duo of corrupt detectives. On the home front, "Gossip Girl's" Leighton Meester plays the couple's babysitter, and "SNL's" Kristin Wiig plays Fey's best friend.

Because both Tina Fey and Steve Carell are so good at creating humor out of everyday situations, with their slightly pathetic yet endearing characters, I'm a little surprised that the comedy is going the madcap route. Still, I have to commend director Shawn Levy for aggressively casting from the top rung and securing stellar comedic actors. When I interviewed director John Hamburg of I Love You, Man earlier this year, he stressed the importance of filling a cast with the funniest people he knew, who could improv on a scene, time it, and make it fly, and it seems that Levy's doing the same thing here. Levy, who's directed mainly family-themed comedy in the past (The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Nickelodeon shows "The Famous Jett Jackson and "The Secret World of Alex Mack"), seems to have acquired the bug for star-filled casts directing the two Night at the Museum films. Since Fey and Carell have both been able to clear their schedules of their television obligations, filming will star in L.A. next week.

Monday, April 13, 2009

'Hannah Montana' sings high note

By Sarah Sluis

Kids really can rule the world...or at least the box office. Tweens turned out in force for Hannah Montana: The Movie, which opened to $34 million. It's the largest April opening for Disney, and a surprise Hannah montana movie number-one finish. The previous week's winner, Fast & Furious, dropped a steep 59%, leaving Hannah Montana room to grab the top spot. The news definitively proves that star Miley Cyrus can open movies (her concert film last year posted a similarly spectacular opening weekend), but pessimists can still harp that it's her alter ego that draws in audiences. They'll soon have a chance to prove their case (or not): Her transition film, The Last Song, a romance penned by Nicholas Sparks, starts filming this June. A caveat: Many Hannah Montana fans will still be way too young to watch that film, as I suspect the Montana audience skews younger than the 7 to 13 year-olds tracking surveys say were Cyrus' main audience this past weekend. I was astonished to see a preschooler on a bus, fidgeting because her nanny was ignoring her in favor of US Weekly, suddenly shriek and point out the one tabloid figure recognizable to her: "Miley! Miley!" Those pre-K kids will go see a G-rated Hannah Montana movie, but their parents might give pause before taking them to a movie billed as romance.

Monsters vs. Aliens coasted through at number three, dropping just 30% to earn $22.6 million. Seth Rogen-starrer Observe and Report opened lower than expected with $11.1 million. While its dark humor clearly differentiated it from that other Segway security guard film, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the drug use, violence, and ambiguous date rape thinned the audiences, giving it an opening in line with Rogen's other tough sell, Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Lower down on the list, Dragonball Evolution opened at number eight. Based on an anime franchise popular a decade before, the title has lost most of its cachet here but is doing well abroad. It earned a modest $4.6 million, about all Fox expected.

Three films in the top ten are in their fourth week of release: Knowing (#5, $6.6 million), I Love You, Man (#5, $6.4 million) and Duplicity (#10, $2.9 million), with only Duplicity below the $50 million mark. Playing at just three locations, rock band documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil had the highest per-screen average of the week, earning $11,000 at each theatre.

This friday, Zac Efron will compete for the Disney audience in Warner Bros.' 17 Again, along with British-accented action sequel Crank: High Voltage and Washington D.C. reporter thriller State of Play.

Friday, April 10, 2009

'Hannah Montana,' 'Observe and Report,' documentaries crowd the box office

By Sarah Sluis

If you are a girl between the ages of seven and thirteen, chances are you'll be at the movie theatre this weekend, watching what our critic dubbed an "utterly formulaic yet eminently watchable slice of Hannah Montana Southern-fried cornpone." Yes, we're talking about Hannah Montana: The Movie, which sends the singer, who's turned into a bit of a diva, to live the "Simple Life" with her grandma in the country. She meets a cute boy who wears a cowboy hat (as all boys must do in the South), and uses her star power to throw a concert that will save the area from being turned into her old shrine, a shopping mall. It opens on 3,118 screens, but is expected to come in behind Fast & Furious, which has little competition in a field cluttered with kid-oriented films, among them holdover Monsters vs. Aliens and other newbie release Dragonball Evolution (2,181 theatres). Why so many films for the K-12 set? Spring break, which usually falls in April, right around the Passover/Easter holiday, the latter of which falls this Sunday.

For college students perhaps on spring break, R-rated Observe and Report opens this weekend. Inspired by Travis Bickle's character in Taxi Driver (if De Niro were Seth Rogen and a mall security Observe report guard), the film goes to the edge for comedy, including a borderline date rape scene that our critic called "the litmus test for deciding whether Observe and Report is darkly funny or deeply irresponsible." Opening in 2,727 theatres, the movie will likely open in the top five.

On the specialty front, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is another one of those literary adaptations that just makes you want to read the book. Our critic called the voice-over narration, a holdover from the book "not cinematically interesting," and noted that "the whole enterprise has a heavy literary tone that transmits onscreen as a certain unrelenting joylessness."

A cluster of documentaries release this week, with subjects ranging from rock bands to artists to war and poverty in developing nations. Documentarian Sacha Gervasi went out and found a band right out of This is Spinal Tap in Anvil! The Story of Anvil (3 theatres in NY/LA), an account of a band that keeps on going---still, as the joke goes, big in Japan. If the first film is a documentary version of a mockumentary, In a Dream is the reverse: a documentary that comes off as a "mockumentary of cinematic self-discovery." Using "overbearing" narration, director Jeremiah Zagar documents his artist father's work and even his dad's affair with his young assistant.

Moving to Lima, Peru, the documentary Oblivion focuses on "intentional forgetfulness and the forgotten," highlighting the class differences of a rich and poor society. Finally, An Unlikely Weapon tells the story of that Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken during the Vietnam War of a South Vietnamese executing a Viet Cong, his face cringing in anticipation of his death. Whether you catch a teen singer in the country, that other mall cop, some dragonballs or one of the many documentaries coming out this week, we'll see you back here on Monday.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sibling relationship sabotage a hot topic

By Sarah Sluis

In Hollywood, like attracts like. That sense of dj vu that occurs when a project is announced isn't eerie, but a welcome sign of familiarity that allows you to compare the film with its predecessors. So it's no wonder that certain plot elements seem to cluster together. Take the recent announcement that Andy Margot at the wedding Fickman will helm You Again. Described as a "female-driven comedy," the movie is about a woman whose brother gets engaged to her high school nemesis, the "mean girl." She sets out to sabotage the engagement and prove to her brother that he's about to marry someone evil.

Compare this project to another sibling relationship interception in the works, Ride Along. It's a starring vehicle for Ice Cube more than anything else, in which he'll play a rogue cop upset with his sister's fianc: a white, uptight psychiatrist. He brings him along on one of his patrols, hoping to intimidate him out of marrying the sister.

While both of these projects use different genre starting points to tell their story (the high school angst film versus the buddy cop film), I find it remarkable that two tales of siblings interfering with their brother or sister's engagements would appear in one week. Add one more, and it'll be a trend. What's more, there's no real precedent for this kind of film. Most of the movies involving relationship sabotage usually have a best friend involved, someone who's angling for a romance--think My Best Friend's Wedding. Replacing the best friend with a sibling is far more Freudian, but also family-oriented during a time when people are in a protective, save-for-the-winter mode. The only example I can find, from summary alone, is last year's Margot at the Wedding, in which Nicole Kidman tries to sabotage her sister's relationship to Jack Black. Could this be the under-the-radar film that set off the rise of the sibling relationship sabotage film?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

'Morning Glory' ready to blossom, 'Butter' churning

By Sarah Sluis

J.J. Abrams has been busy, recently re-upping his production company's contract with Paramount and signing on for a Star Trek sequel. Next on his plate, however, is producing the workplace comedy Harrison ford

Morning Glory
. In a film packed with stars spanning multiple generations, Harrison Ford will lead the cast, portraying a past-his-prime anchorman who switches to a morning news show. There, he butts heads with the other host, Diane Keaton. Rachel McAdams plays the young producer trying to corral the stars in order to score recognition with her boss, Jeff Goldblum. Keaton and McAdams worked together on family-themed romantic comedy The Family Stone, but Keaton and Ford, aged 63 and 66, respectively, have yet to work with each other during the careers--maybe they'll have a nice chemistry onscreen. Director Roger Michell (Venus, Notting Hill) and writer Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Laws of Attraction) have an impressive amount of comedy and romance experience between them, making me suspect that Keaton and Ford's dislike of each other might turn into romance. Of course, there's also the possibility the movie emphasize the workplace over the romance, like beloved films Network or maybe even Working Girl. In these films, a job is more than simply a profession for the character to have as they carry on a romance out of the workplace (i.e. Katherine Heigl being an "E!" host in Knocked Up), but their true "love." I also adore behind-the-scenes movies, so I know I'll really relish watching what goes on at a "Today"-type show. Production starts this June in New York, so if the characters aren't spending too much time in the studio, I'll look for them filming on the streets of the city.

Another project that just got off the ground is Butter, a "Best in Show meets Election" that will star (and be produced by) Jennifer Garner. The screenplay by Jason Micallef landed him on the unofficial Black Jennifer garner

Book of 2008, a list of unproduced screenplays that executives like best. Garner would lend her dimpled, endearing persona to the Midwestern tale, playing an adopted outsider who discovers a hidden talent for butter carving (an actual farm country endeavor, thus the screenwriter's inspiration). She proves an unlikely source of competition, earning the ire of the overachieving wife of the retired butter-carving champion, who is intent on winning the prize for herself. It sounds like a wacky role that I imagine Garner, who is both likeable and tough (as an action star in "Alias") excelling in. I also sincerely hope there is a hint of Drop Dead Gorgeous in the film, the mockumentary about a Southern beauty pageant that took regional stereotyping to hilarious extremes. Garner's project is being developed with Mandate, which produced Juno, another film Garner played a role in.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

May & June releases to watch: the ones that already have sequels

By Sarah Sluis

A comedy to watch for this summer will be The Hangover. Apparently it's funny enough that Warner Bros. asked the director to write the sequel before the first film even comes out. The trailer brought down Hangover

the house at ShoWest, and reports are, the movie's been testing off the charts. It has a bit of a Dude, Where's My Car? premise: men on a bachelor party in Vegas wake up with no memory of the night before, mayhem around them, and a missing groom. They go around reconstructing the night's events, which, from the trailer alone, seem to involve hospitals, weddings, Siegfried & Roy tigers, police officer impersonation, a baby, and a run-in with Mike Tyson. What seems fresh about the movie's snowball of implausible events is that the characters approach them from the standpoint of the past. They've already done all these things and suffered the immediate consequences. The movie seems as though it will focus on the men trying (and failing) to put things back together, and periodically marveling at how they got into the mess. Todd Phillips wrote/directed/produced the first film, but only participated in the re-write stage. For the sequel, he'll be scripting from the beginning. Stars Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Bradley Cooper have also committed to return, with production starting this fall. The first movie had an incredibly quick start-to-finish, with production starting just weeks after the news hit the press (SAG uncertainties cited as a reason for the scheduling), so it seems that Phillips, who has helmed Starsky & Hutch, Old School, and Road Trip, may be the studio comedy craftsman to beat in terms of efficiency and speed.

Another upcoming release that's already been green-lit is a second Star Trek. The trailer for the first (which comes out May 8) wowed me by featuring a dusty, desert car chase, enough of a change from theStar trek

space station set to catch my non-Trekkie attention. As a fan of "Lost," a television show with one of the most complicated story universes I've ever encountered, I expect that director (and "Lost" creator) J.J. Abrams nailed the ensemble cast and extensive backstory needed to make the movie appealing to Trek fans as well as those just interested in a good space story. Abrams has committed to produce, but not necessarily direct, the sequel. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are returning to write along with Damon Lindelof, who produced the first film.

The last remake worth mentioning (since according to this THR article, remakes or films based on Nightmare on elmexisting properties are particularly in vogue right now) is A Nightmare on Elm Street. Jackie Earle Haley will star as Freddy Krueger, the killer who stalks and kills teenagers in their sleep. The actor

earned raves for his performance as Rorschach in Watchmen. With his face covered in an ink blot sack most of the movie, his performance was primarily vocal (always good for a horror film), and the few minutes he spent unmasked were considered the high points of an otherwise lackluster film. Haley will also appear in Martin Scorsese's October 2 release Shutter Island, a thriller about a criminally insane escaped woman who is hiding out on an island, and set in 1954. Michael Bay-led Platinum Dunes productions has revived franchises including Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and remade The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, with plans to revive many more--including Hitchcock's The Birds. As the article notes, even the 1990s will soon be fair game for remakes, as teen horror fans may not be familiar with the originals, so get ready as Hollywood works through the 1980s and 1990s.

Monday, April 6, 2009

No bailout for record-breaking 'Fast & Furious'

By Sarah Sluis

The automobile industry may be in decline, but the automobile? Never. In the highest opening of the year, and the highest April opening ever, Fast & Furious earned a whopping $72.5 million this weekend, Vin diesel fast furious

surprising industry experts, who had never seen anything bigger in April than the $42 million opening of Anger Management six years ago. The film was expected to open in the $40-50 million range, but instead brought in an estimated $20,950 per screen in its record-breaking finish. The opening weekend also bests the entire box-office gross of the previous sequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The return of the original star Vin Diesel no doubt helped, but the robust performance of the film could also be viewed as an impact of the recession. While home entertainment competes with the theatre box office, the very fact that seeing a movie involves getting out of the house could work in the industry's favor during a period when many of the unemployed are stuck at home looking for a job. I'm curious to see if theatre owners see a lift in attendance Monday through Friday, as unoccupied workers seek some diversion during the week.

Below Fast & Furious, Monsters vs. Aliens earned a little more than half the amount of last week, $33.5 million. The 3D film will likely remain in the top ten for several weeks to come, and should taper off its drop as 2D screens are removed from the run and profitable 3D screens remain.

The other new picture of the week, Adventureland, came in at number six to earn a light $6 million. Opening on just 1,862 screens, the comedy didn't have the presence of Greg Mottola's previous film, Superbad.

Overture's Sunshine Cleaning broke into the top ten in its fourth week of release, adding 312 screens to its 479-screen run and earning $1.8 million. The star power of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, as well as a marketing campaign that alluded to the black comedy's Little Miss Sunshine roots, have filled theatres, despite its small run.

The rest of the returning films dropped between 38-58%, a reasonable range. Two week-old releases The Haunting in Connecticut (#3, $9.5 million) and 12 Rounds (#9, $2.3 million) dropped the most, while comedy I Love You, Man (#5, $7.8 million) retained audiences with just a 38% drop. Sci-fi thriller Knowing (#4, $8.1 million), romantic spy movie Duplicity (#7, $4.3 million) and family film Race to Witch Mountain (#8, $3.3 million) rounded out the top ten.

Friday, April 3, 2009

'Adventureland' and 'Fast & Furious' race into theatres

By Sarah Sluis

The most hyped release of the week is Adventureland (1,862 theatres). From Superbad director Greg Mottola, it's set in the time of 1980's John Hughes movies, but the tale of "a dweeby nebbish [who] improbably wins the heart of a gorgeous babe" (according to our reviewer Ethan Alter) is told with Adventureland

considerable more bite. The movie has a fantastic retro soundtrack and clothing, and unlike its 1980s predecessors, has no qualms making marijuana, not alcohol, the slacker-theme park drug of choice. Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg make a somewhat unlikely pairing, with Stewart playing a variation of "the typical manic pixie dream girl who teaches the nerdy hero how to loosen up and enjoy life." Even more unlikely is the casting of Ryan Reynolds (who recently wed Scarlett Johannsson) as an older, married maintenance worker who likes to carry out summer affairs with young members of the staff--Stewart included. Mottola does a great job setting up the "rules" of the theme park much like films like Mean Girls set up their high school hierarchies. Eisenberg and Stewart are "Games" people, not the coveted "Rides" people, and treated accordingly. The whole operation is overseen by a hilariously enthusiastic couple, played by SNL's Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader. The small release means it will likely come it no higher than #3 for the week (behind Monsters vs. Aliens and Fast & Furious), but at least the theatres will be packed enough to inspire contagious laughter.

Vin Diesel returns to the franchise that made him famous in Fast & Furious (3,462 theatres), the fourth installment of the film-slash-excuse for car chases and automobile fetishization. Our critic Daniel Eagan found "the thrilling as they are implausible." But for viewers seeking "a throwback to an earlierFast furious

age of exploitation films," it's an old formula [that] still make[s] sense...Solid and satisfying, it should win over mainstream viewers as well as gearheads."

Even with an evangelical showing of "gearheads," Monsters vs. Aliens will likely win over the box office for a second week. A failure to do so will be a big upset for the film, which has been playing well in 3D venues. The 2D screens, by comparison, are considerably more empty, at least according to the talk at Showest.

On the specialty side, New Yorkers have a lot to choose from: Sugar, a "fictionalized tale of a Dominican baseball player trying to make it in the States," uses its story to comment on "acculturation and the immigrant experience." Paris 36, a "let's put on a show" musical with a lush, 1936 Paris setting, and, closer to home, Gigantic, a slightly surreal romance and comedy set in the Big Apple itself. Or, if you want to go out of this world, Alien Trespass, a sci-fi tale "with echoes of It Came from Outer Space and other 1950s drive-in classics" and "a paragon of dry humor," releases in 40 theatres across the country. Next Monday, we'll recap and sort out the winners and losers at the box office.

Social issue films have their day at ShoWest

By Sarah Sluis

ShoWest coordinated a first-of-its-kind panel discussion Thursday morning on "The Emergence of Social Issue Films" before the screening of the Sundance Audience Award winner The Cove. Ricky Strauss, president of Participant Media, producer of this acclaimed documentary and other socially engaged films like Syriana, An Inconvenient Truth and Good Night and Good Luck, called theatre owners "unsung heroes" in Participant's mission to "inspire and compel social change through great storytelling."

Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions, distributor of The Cove along with Lionsgate, noted that "people are getting more used to seeing documentaries" and that "when the subject matter hits people, [a documentary] can work very broadly."

Without a doubt, The Cove has the potential to play very broadly indeed. It's the powerful story of the efforts of former dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry (the man who trained TV's beloved Flipper) to expose the wholesale slaughter of dolphins in the fishing town of Taiji, Japan. The film's director Louis Psihoyos, a National Geographic cinematographer and founder of the Ocean Preservation Society, joins a team of divers and technology experts in their dangerous mission to record this horrific practice, which has been covered up by the Japanese government.

Speaking of his experience, Psihoyos told the ShoWest audience, "It was like I walked into a Stephen King novel." His movie has the suspense of a high-tech thriller, while being an endearing love letter to our aquatic neighbors and an expose of the savage, pointless murders happening in Japan's notorious cove. And let's not even talk about the film's revelations about the potential for mercury poisoning in our food. The Cove will surely be one of the most acclaimed and watched documentaries of the year and, more importantly, a real agent for change in the Participant spirit.

Live 3D sports events win raves from Rave, Carmike and Empire

By Sarah Sluis

"I'm convinced this is the future. The business model has changed. The possibilities are endless."

Those are the words of Fred Van Noy, chief operating officer and senior VP of operations at Carmike Cinemas, speaking at Cinedigm's Live 3D presentation at ShoWest Thursday morning. Van Noy and two other exhibitors recounted their success with Cinedigm's recent live 3D offerings of the BCS Championship Game and the NBA All-Star Saturday Night, the first such national sports broadcasts in cinemas.

Tom Stephenson, president and CEO of Rave Motion Pictures, reported that the BCS event sold out in nine Rave locations and overall accounted for seven of the top ten grossing cinema attractions that night. What's more, concessions (which at Rave included beer, wine and nachos) posted an increase of $5.23 per patron.

Dean Leland, VP of studio and media relations at Canada's Empire Theatres, said his circuit charged $20 plus tax for the NBA spectacular at his Toronto location, and company research showed that many patrons drove in from other cities and said they would return for a similar experience.

Cinedigm COO Michele Martell reported some impressive stats for each event: The BCS game, she said, did 2000% more business than the number-one movie that day, while the NBA event earned 45% more than nine of the top ten movies that Saturday night.

The audience at ShoWest got a look at footage from both events, and the NBA highlights were particularly impressive, with multiple 3D angles on the action produced exclusively for theatres.

Van Noy noted that, with the help of Disney and ESPN, Carmike first experimented with a live 3D broadcast of a Morgantown, West Virginia home football game in 2005, and patrons willingly paid $10 to $12 for something they could see free at home on TV. The tailgate parties in the parking lot and the cheering crowds were Van Noy's first inkling that "we've got something here."

On opening weekend of Monsters vs. Aliens, Carmike purposely played the 3D animated feature on 110 2D screens in addition to its 439 3D screens for comparison purposes. The difference in business was striking, as high as 17 to 1 in one Carmike multiplex, Van Noy reported.

Rave's Stephenson encouraged his fellow exhibitors to come aboard the 3D train. That's where the business growth is, he asserted, as audiences get accustomed to a whole new brand of cinema experience.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Interview with Matt Aselton, director of 'Gigantic'

By Sarah Sluis

Upcoming release Gigantic, a romance and a comedy about a young mattress salesman (Paul Dano) who wants to adopt a baby from China, and the equally unusual young woman (Zooey Deschanel) he falls in love with, releases in New York City this Friday. I had an opportunity to speak with director Matt Dano deschanel

Aselton about his debut film, including why he felt the need to have a random homeless man attack his male lead, and the stroke of genius that helped John Goodman cough up a realistic-looking tumor.

One of the most striking things about Gigantic is its stellar cast (all of whom turn in spot-on performances). Besides Paul Dano, best known for his role as the preacher in There Will Be Blood, the cast includes Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Edward Asner and Jane Alexander.

To assemble the cast, Aselton first talked to Paul: "I had seen L.I.E. years ago and liked him since then, even though he was really young at the time. He understood the script and the way that I wanted it to go. It's sort of a quiet's Paul's movie in a large way, everyone's orbiting around him. I wanted to make sure that his character was setting the tone and pace, that everyone's reacting to him" Once Dano was on board, "Zooey came on next. From an intellectual standpoint, it made sense."

As for John Goodman, who owns each scene he's in? "I begged him. For six months." One casting decision that didn't come to fruition was Gene Wilder as the homeless man/Paul's demon. "He sent us a note saying, "I'm a lot older than you think I am," a nod to the physical fights required in the role.

The homeless man, who attacks Paul Dano throughout the film without explanation, was in the script Paul dano john googman

from the beginning. Aselton always thought the meaning was obvious: "a manifestation of Paul's subconscious, a demon." He also plays with the surreal in a tumor-coughing scene narrated by John Goodman. The sequence ends with him using traditional chinese medicine to visualize moving a brain tumor to a place where he could cough it up, and, of course, expectorating. After attempts to make a realistic-looking tumor failed, a makeup artist (with a background in horror) stepped in, taking some unripe banana and ketchup to make a suitably bloody, solid mass.

Set in New York City, Aselton aimed for a more "local" look of the five boroughs. "I'm always kind of wary of those movies where the 28 year-olds live in huge lofts, so I wanted Paul's place to look kind of outer borough (in fact filmed by Orchard Street in Chinatown). We didn't want to shoot big landmarks. We wanted it to look like what a pedestrian would see: stacks of air conditioners, not the Brooklyn Bridge."

While not many romantic comedies can claim to have tumor-coughing scenes or angst expressed by fights with a homeless man, Aselton makes us believe these are just part of this world, mainly through Paul's nonchalant reactions. It's a welcome departure from hyper-conscious hipster films, intent on deconstructing the irony of their world. Aselton agrees: "I really wanted it to be about observing these people as opposed to trying to put them in a position where it's audience/stage, a proscenium. I wanted it to be, let's just sit back and watch."

Opening this friday at the Village East, Gigantic will roll out nationally later this year. As for Aselton, his next project involves an art thief who steals fine art from homes.

Digital financing gets spirited debate at ShoWest

By Sarah Sluis

FJI Executive Editor Kevin Lally continues his report from the annual ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas.

All the pieces seemed to be in place to make 2009 the year the transition to digital projection finally happened in earnest. The big studios were counting on it, preparing an ambitious slate of 3D productions that could only be shown with the new digital equipment. Then, in the fall of 2008, the financial markets plummeted, and a credit freeze dramatically impacted those grand conversion plans.

Some exhibitors with healthy balance sheets have been exploring the avenue of self-financing digital installations for the coming 3D wave, rather than being beholden to a bigger third-party integrator. The decision to self-finance was the topic of a surprisingly lively and substantive panel discussion on Wednesday at ShoWest in Las Vegas, with a sometimes outspoken group of participants representing a diverse range of viewpoints.

Moderated by G. Kendrick Macdowell, VP, general counsel and director of government affairs at NATO, the panel featured two studio execs who have pledged support in the form of virtual print fees to individual exhibitors. Mark Christiansen, executive VP of operations at Paramount Pictures, deemed his studio's plan "incredibly easy�something you can do now." But Fox exec VP of digital exhibition Julian Levin, who is also reaching out to individual cinema owners, bluntly criticized the streamlined Paramount offer document as having "a lot of holes," contrasting the Fox approach as that of "a grown-up business."

Even more contentious was exhibitor George Solomon, CEO of Southern Theatres. Dismissing the role of third-party integrators like Cinedigm and Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, he declared, "I believe that mid-size circuits should be able to negotiate virtual print fees directly or have their own consortiums� I don't believe in giving a cut to an integrator."

The plain-speaking Solomon, whom Macdowell at one point compared to a crafty Southern lawyer, proved not much of a champion of the digital revolution. "35mm is still better," he contended. "What's the difference between a hard drive and 35mm film? Forty pounds!" Arguing that the benefits of digital accrue mainly to the studios, he challenged, "If distribution wants 2K, give us the money!"

Fox's Levin quickly countered that a digital platform has great benefits for exhibition, including the growing business of alternative content and the higher per-screen revenues from 3D. He warned, "I don't know if Fox will be there forever to help with financing� You may not get these VPFs if you're waiting for certainty."

Everyone on the panel seemed to agree on one fundamental: that the commitment of two distributors to VPF deals is not enough to warrant individual exhibitor investments in digital equipment, that "a critical mass of studios," in Levin's words, is needed.

Also on the panel was Bill Campbell, the new managing director of NATO's Cinema Buying Group for smaller exhibitors, who took the most conciliatory role, seeking "multiple options" and a way to "make it all fit."

On a positive note, the panel's rep from the banking industry, Andrew Sriubas, managing director of JP Morgan Investment Banking, forecast a significant unfreezing of credit by this summer. If that proves true, perhaps the 3D product coming in the second half of 2009 will get the wide rollout that was always part of the plan.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

3D all the rage at ShoWest

By Sarah Sluis

FJI Executive Editor Kevin Lally reports on movie highlights at the annual ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas.

The $59.3 million opening weekend for DreamWorks Animation's Monsters vs. Aliens was a timely prelude to the 3D programming that dominated the second day of ShoWest, the convention for the movie theatre business now taking place in Las Vegas. As if engaging in a game of one-upmanship with DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg and his fervent campaign to get cinemas on the 3D bandwagon, Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Group President Mark Zoradi hosted a nearly two-hour program highlighting Disney's ambitious slate of 17 3D films coming up in the next three years.

Zoradi revealed that the reconfigured 3D Toy Story and Toy Story 2 will debut as a double feature in a two-week limited engagement in October, whetting the public's appetite for Pixar's all-new 3D Toy Story 3 on June 18, 2010.

Meanwhile, Cars 2 in 3D will be preceded by a series of 3D shorts dubbed "Cars Toons." ShoWest delegates got an exclusive look at one such short, "Tokyo Mater," a fantasy in which the countrified tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy finds himself competing in a manic Tokyo drift race. It's fun to see the familiar Cars characters in a sleek, glittery Tokyo setting�an opportunity for director John Lasseter (and Pixar head honcho) to show his well-documented love for Japanese animation.

The Vegas audience also got to preview the opening sequence of Disney's 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast repurposed for 3D. It was a refreshing reminder of the charms of hand-drawn animation, here surprisingly smoothly adapted to the 3D medium, and the particular delights of the only animated feature ever nominated for Best Picture. I can't wait to see the whole movie in this new guise.

Disney is also reviving a property that laid some of the groundwork for today's computer animation�the experimental 1982 cult feature Tron, which placed live actors in a surreal game-racing environment. Zoradi showed a test sequence for the 21st-century Tron which showed lots of exciting potential, complete with the welcome return of the original movie's star, Jeff Bridges.

Zoradi also made note (without screening actual footage) of two upcoming 3D projects from major directors: Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture A Christmas Carol, with Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge and all three of his ghostly intruders, and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which will combine live-action, motion-capture and CGI. Alice will also open on IMAX 3D screens.

The second half of the Disney program was a screening of the first 47 minutes of Pixar's first 3D feature, Up, which was recently chosen as the first animated and first 3D film to open the Cannes Film Festival. Director Pete Docter, of Monsters, Inc. fame, was on hand to enthusiastically introduce his handiwork. ShoWest forbids advance reviews of its screenings, but I think I can safely say this project is as original as we've come to expect from Pixar, and absolutely wonderful. In fact, I dare say the first ten minutes, which show the life story of the old man at the center of the tale, is as artful and poignant as any live-action sequence you'll see this year.

Docter noted that the Pixar folks consider all their films to be in 3D, but "we've just never showed them to you in stereo."

The Disney program went so long, lunch at the show was unusually late. But first, before we could eat, hosts Sony Pictures and RealD somewhat cruelly showed us two sequences from Sony's 3D adaptation of the popular children's book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, in which a young scientist's experiment results in food raining down from the sky. The 3D effects looked great�particularly the meatballs plopping in the foreground�and kids should, please pardon the pun, eat it up.

Overgrown kids of all ages, particularly unrepentant frat-boy types, will love The Hangover, which director Todd Phillips of Old School and Road Trip fame previewed during the part of the morning session conducted by Warner Bros. Entertainment president and COO Alan Horn. Judging by its wild and funny trailer, this comedy about a bachelor party run amok is destined to be one of the surefire hits of the summer. Horn also brought on the energetic McG to show an extended trailer for his Terminator Salvation, which looks like an action bull's-eye, and the ever-wry Robert Downey, Jr. to tout the cheeky, big-budget, action-oriented approach to his next starring vehicle, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.

From the glimpses gained on ShoWest Day Two, it looks like the momentum of the movies in 2009 will be continuing for months to come.