Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'The Fighter,' 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' round out casts for summer shoots

By Sarah Sluis

When someone's career starts to take off, you often expect them to move away from supporting parts and take on only leading roles. Not Amy Adams. She followed up her Oscar-nominated supporting Amy_adams role in Junebug with a mainstream Disney comedy, Enchanted, but returned for another supporting role in Doubt (Oscar nomination #2). With a romantic comedy, Leap Year, under wraps, she's signed up for another supporting role, as Mark Wahlberg's love interest in The Fighter. The biopic has been circulating for some time before it finally nailed down its two leads earlier this year. Christian Bale and Wahlberg will star as two brothers. The eldest (Bale), who has drugs and prison time on his resume, trains his younger brother to a boxing title. Melissa Leo, who was nominated last year for Lead Actress, will play Bale and Wahlberg's mother. David O. Russell is directing, and the film will start shooting in Lowell, MA, in July. With its talented cast of actors, biographical subject, and a talented director, this looks like a project angling to be one of the ten Best Picture nominees at the 2010 Oscars.

Here's an interesting combination: A 1973 teleplay as source material + the mysterious wife of Tom Cruise as star + a Guillermo Del Toro protege as director. Put it together, and you've got Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which will begin shooting next month in New Zealand. I was disappointed that Katie Holmes didn't reprise her role as Rachel in Guillermo-del-toro_l The Dark Knight, and took it as a sign that she was swearing off the movie business, so I'm excited to see her turn up headlining another project. Never underestimate the lasting audience loyalty that can result from starring in a teen nighttime soap like "Dawson's Creek." Del Toro mentored Juan Antonia Bayona on the Spanish-language horror film The Orphanage (2007), to spectacular results, and he'll be taking on a similar role with Troy Nixey. The first-time feature director will be working from a screenplay co-written by Del Toro, and the New Zealand location was chosen for its proximity to Australia, where Del Toro is working on The Hobbit. Del Toro is also producing, ensuring he'll be able to keep a watchful eye on the film's progress. The film's plot seems fairly typical, so it will be up to Nixey and Del Toro to create that tingly atmosphere of foreboding. The plot follows a girl (Bailee Madison) who moves in with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes), only to discover demonic creatures that first enchant, and then horrify her. The girlfriend also becomes aware of their presence, but the father holds out, refusing to believe. Horror that tries to be more than just a screamer is one of my great pleasures, so I'm always happy to see projects like this in the pipeline.

Monday, June 29, 2009

'Transformers' sequel floods the box office with $201.2 million

By Sarah Sluis

Of all the big movies released this summer, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen received the worst reviews. It also earned the most money--$201.2 million, to be exact. After an astounding $60.6 Transformers monday million debut from Tuesday midnight and Wednesday screenings, the film racked up $112 million from Friday to Sunday. With a PG-13 rating, it was able to draw audiences from a younger pool of viewers. However, few expect Transformers to sustain its blockbuster opening weekend. The core audience for the film is young and male, two demographics known for turning out opening weekend. After the film burns through these viewers, it's unlikely to pick up viewers through word-of-mouth or critical recommendations, the way The Dark Knight did last summer. The coming Fourth of July holiday, however, could lessen the action film's second weekend fall.

The other new release on the list, My Sister's Keeper, performed below expectations, earning $12 million and fifth place in the top ten. With mixed reviews critically (it's tracking 49% on Rotten Tomatoes), this film will have to rely on word-of-mouth to influence female viewers in weeks to come.

Perhaps the first film about the Iraq War to do well at the box office, The Hurt Locker earned $36,000 per screen, $10,000 more than #1 film Transformers. With only four screens in its current release, Hurt locker this film is poised to become a breakout hit as it expands. Its combination of critical acclaim and a perspective on the war that seems friendly to veterans and their families should attract the pro- and anti-war alike. This is a film to watch in coming weeks.

Among returning films, Away We Go finally cracked the top ten after four weeks in release. Like The Hurt Locker, it debuted in four theatres and earned a similarly impressive $32,000 per screen in its opening weekend. This weekend it earned $1.6 million, increasing its take 95% from last week while quadrupling the theatres in its release, to 495.

The Hangover continued its impressive run, falling just 35.7% to $17.2 million, and Star Trek also dropped 34.6%, adding another $3.46 million to its $246.2 million domestic gross.

This Wednesday, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs will have to battle with top-ten family films Up (#4, $13 million) and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (#9, $3.5 million). With over 4,000 theatres in its release, it will likely bump Night at the Museum from the top ten and Up down a few spots. For adults, Michael Mann returns to the scene of the crime with Public Enemies, which will open on 3,200 screens.

Friday, June 26, 2009

'Transformers' revving for a blockbuster weekend

By Sarah Sluis

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (4,234 theatres) earned $60.2 million in its opening day (including $16 million from midnight screenings the night before), and an additional $28.6 million on Transformers Thursday. It's set for a $160-$180 million five-day total, which would put it behind The Dark Knight but among films from an elite group of franchises, like Star Wars and Spider-Man. Still, as someone who squirmed through the entire film and found it to be a CGI version of six-year-old children playing with their transformers, I'm at a loss. There's no way this can be a "four-quadrant" film, the kind that's supposed to cross over to all audiences. Judging from its PG-13 rating, and the lines I saw outside AMC Empire 42 in New York City on Tuesday night for late-night showings, pre-teens to early teens seem to be the biggest fans of the film. While its opening weekend should be stellar, it should expect to drop at least in the mid-40%'s each week, consistent with the first Transformers.

When women drop off their kids at the movie theatre, perhaps they'll catch My Sister's Keeper, which opens in 2,606 theatres. I reviewed the film, and found it to be a surefire way to have a good cry. My sister's keeper While the sick child premise isn't as big of a draw as director Nick Cassavetes' romantic tearjerker The Notebook, the film celebrates life and family, and is quite satisfying despite being repetitious at times. However, the film will face competition from the more upbeat The Proposal, which won the box office last week.

A more adult action film than Transformers, The Hurt Locker (4 theatres) centers on a group of bomb diffusers in Iraq. The film has received a sensational response among critics, who have praised the film for its realism and for its unusual choice to be a war film, without coming out pro-war or anti-war. The New York Times' A.O. Scott made the advertising-ready pronouncement "If The Hurt Locker is not the best action movie of the summer, I'll blow up my car," which sounds like a pretty strong endorsement to me.

Presciently topical, The Stoning of Soraya M. (27 theatres) will likely pick up audiences due to its Iranian setting, as well as its politically aware message. Based on a true story, the film follows a woman whose husband accuses her of adultery in order to get rid of her and marry someone younger. For her punishment, she is stoned to death.

Also opening today is Cheri (76 theaters), a costume romance starring Michele Pfeiffer. Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), who Kirk Honeycutt praised for "simply [bringing] out the best in his Cheri collaborators," and based on two novels by French writer Colette, the film's exceptional pedigree produced a romance just as rewarding to watch.

On Monday, we'll circle back to see how Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen fared through the weekend, whether My Sister's Keeper will beat The Proposal, and which specialty releases packed the most seats.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

See the fate of Flipper in 'The Cove'

By Sarah Sluis

Dolphins deserve their stuffed animal status. They're cute, friendly, intelligent, and have been known to protect humans from sharks and other perils. Their very appeal to humans, however, is what The cove crew endangers them. The documentary The Cove focuses on the small fishing community of Taiji, Japan, where dolphins are sold to "swim-with-the-dolphins" businesses and performing aquariums around the world, and the dolphins not selected are shepherded into a hidden cove where they are killed with harpoons.

The leader of the anti-captivity movement, Richard O'Berry, is a dolphin-lover who has been on both sides of the debate. He trained the dolphins used for "Flipper" for ten years before having a change of heart, and has spent three times as long, as he puts it, undoing what the show unleashed. He's been particularly vocal against what goes on in Taiji, the center of the captivity trade, to the point where he is followed by police investigators wherever he goes. With a team of dolphin (a.k.a. cetacean) activists on his side, they devise a way to film the slaughter, Ocean's 11 style.

Interwoven with their filming mission is background about the intelligence of dolphins, the International Whaling Commission's inability to regulate smaller cetaceans like dolphins, and evidence that many people are unwittingly eating dolphins. Often marketed as whale meat, dolphin meat has a dangerous amount of mercury that makes it unfit for regular consumption.

The best--and worst--parts of The Cove are the incredibly powerful scenes of animal cruelty. The cove Copious amounts of blood are spilled, to the point where the blood gushing out of the elevator in The Shining seems like a trickle. It's incredibly convincing, and enough to make some people rethink their positions about the mammals.

For someone like me, a middle-of-the-roader who enjoys eating meat and fish and has a rather pragmatic view about where animals are in the grand scheme of things, I think awareness is everything. I consider it my responsibility to know about the consequences of my choices, and where my food came from. After seeing this documentary, I would hesitate before participating in a swim-with-the-dolphins program. I certainly can't abide by slaughtering dolphins for food, especially when the food itself can cause health problems. It's ironic, though, that the very captivity programs the activists are trying to stop are what endear children to the animals in the first place, and make them want to protect them later on. The winner of the Sundance 2009 documentary award, The Cove is a great example of a confrontational animal-rights documentary that can inspire activism--you can visit the activist part of their website here--while alienating few.

Jim Carrey is ready for his close-up in 'A Christmas Carol'

By Sarah Sluis

In preparation for the November release of A Christmas Carol, Disney hosted a "Christmas in July" event to preview some advance footage. Although we were warned the CGI animation wasn't 100% A_christmas_carol_jim_carrey_poster complete, the images looked theatre-ready to me, and the animation choices speak to the tremendous advancements made in CGI since Toy Story.

One of the two preview scenes showed Charles Dickens' famed misanthrope Scrooge (performed by Jim Carrey), sitting in his armchair, as he fearfully meets Marley the ghost. The ghost itself has more of the smooth surfacing we expect in CGI animated films (to clarify, the film uses motion capture footage, which is then overlayed with computer animation), but the close-ups of Scrooge's face are a sight to behold. In 3D, on a theatre-size screen, you can see each and every pore. It's more real than the real thing; the kind of definition you would see if you were examining someone's skin with a magnifying glass, or from 6 inches away. The exaggeration of imperfections in the face and contours is a pleasure to study, and seems real, even though it's not how you would ever view someone sitting in a chair.

Another accomplishment evident from the footage is the incredible contrast between light and dark. Scrooge's face is illuminated by candlelight and fire, and surrounded by spots of extreme darkness--it's chiaroscuro is the kind of shadowing achieved by painters, not cinematographers. Besides being beautiful to look at, it lends the film a darker tone, the kind that had audience members questioning whether the film would be rated PG or G.

Having seen only two brief scenes, I can't say how much life the filmmakers and actors are going to breathe into the story itself. Many film adaptations of A Christmas Carol have been successful by casting cartoons and puppets in the starring roles--who doesn't love the versions with Mickey Mouse and the Muppets? What will this version have to set it apart?

If done right, A Christmas Carol (2009) will have the bragging rights of being in 3D, and rendered using cutting-edge CGI motion-capture animation. The star power of Jim Carrey, who previously led a holiday film to success while masked (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and is playing multiple roles, also helps. My one worry is originality. Besides the beautiful cinematography, I want a story that takes at least a few liberties with the adaptation. I saw the possibility for that in one clip from the montage. Scrooge captures the Ghost of Christmas Past in a funnel, but then is launched, rocket-style, over London, a scene I don't remember seeing in any other version of Dickens' tale. If there are enough little tweaks that add originality and visual pleasure to the story, A Christmas Carol has the chance to go from good to great. Whatever the outcome, I've no doubt that family audiences will turn out in hordes for the film. It releases on November 6th, giving kids a maddening two months to be thinking about what Santa will give them for Christmas.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Time to go on a 'Business Trip' or to the 'Burlesque'?

By Sarah Sluis

With The Hangover a success, and its sequel greenlighted, one Hollywood screenwriter had the Group of guys hangover perfect pitch: the female version. Today, Variety announced that writer Stacey Hartman, who has sold some screenplays but has yet to see any of them made, will write the script Business Trip. It will follow a group of women who go on a corporate outing/conference/pitch. Of course, "anything but" ensues. The production company behind The Hangover, Benderspink, will produce, along with Universal Pictures.

I'm always itching to see female-oriented comedies that aren't centered on romance, so I'm totally on board with the plot. Plus, this would be a great chance to cast some up-and-comers in comedy, just as The Hangover cast rising faces like Zach Galifianakis alongside actors usually cast in supporting roles, like Ed Helms. Benderspink is currently producing romantic comedy Leap Year, which stars Amy Adams, so this project seems like a good way to blend the sensibilities of a "crazy night" comedy with a romantic comedy.

Another project that will star women, Burlesque, added Cher to its cast. She will play the owner of a modern burlesque club who mentors her new hire, a small-town girl (Christina Aguliera). The film Cher-source will be a backstage musical, and both Cher and Aguilera will sing in their roles. Screen Gems, which mainly produces horror films and some comedies, is overseeing the project, which makes me wonder if this will be more genre/exploitation than an arty musical like Chicago or Moulin Rouge. The director, Steve Antin, is an actor who has recently transitioned to writing and directing. He directed a reality competition series about burlesque-style pop group The Pussycat Dolls, "Girlicious," so he's well-versed in filming costumed singing and dancing. Susannah Grant, who penned projects that have great female appeal, like Erin Brockovich and Ever After, revised the script. I'm uncertain about the vision of this film, especially if it's going to try to appeal to one gender over the other. Since shooting starts in November, we'll find out soon enough.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Audiences swoon for 'The Proposal'

By Sarah Sluis

Sandra Bullock had her best opening ever with The Proposal. It's been nearly two months since a romantic comedy debuted in theatres, and audiences turned out in force. The film made $34.1 The proposal touch million, $11,000 per theatre, a sign the showings were packed with laughing audiences.

Even with The Proposal's strong performance, The Hangover held strong, slipping just 16.1% from last weekend, an even smaller drop than last week's 27% dip. It brought in $26.8 million and grabbed the #2 spot. The jackpot film (especially for the studio, since none of the stars receive back-end profits) has coolly raked up $152 million. How the male-bonding film holds when the machine-bonding film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen releases this Friday is almost irrelevant. I've no doubt that any drop in performance will be a blip in its total box office, given its stellar results so far.

Up held onto its #3 spot, dipping 30% from last week. With a cumulative gross of $224 million, it already has surpassed the box office of last year's Wall-E, which finished 2008 at $223 million. Pixar always surprises: who would have thought the story about an old man, a boy scout, and a balloon-propelled house would beat the environmentally friendly, sci-fi comedy-action film? The studio's films are so original they defy comparison.

Opening at #4, Year One was the second primordial comedy to be received indifferently by Year one jack black audiences. Still, its $20.2 million gross surpassed Land of the Lost's $18.8 opening weekend. The Will Ferrell comedy has dropped 50% each weekend, now holding the #8 spot by bringing in $3.9 million. This summer, the teen comedy A-listers--Jack Black, Michael Cera, and Will Ferrell--just don't seem to be opening movies.

Despite its scathing reviews, Whatever Works ruled the specialty circuit this weekend. It brought in a stunning $31,000 per location, its nine theatres well-chosen for their proximity to Woody Allen fans.

This week, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen jumps the starting gun by opening Wednesday in 4,000 theatres. Interest for the sequel appears to be greater than for the first film. At MovieTickets.com, presales are outpacing all films with the top opening weekends. Transformers is going to open big. As a counterpoint, My Sister's Keeper will keep audiences in need of a good cry happy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Three comedies vie for top spot

By Sarah Sluis

From the gate, The Proposal and Year One look as though they'll both hit $20 million this weekend. If The Hangover can handle the competition, and hold on to its below-average drop, it will also hit $20 The proposal plane million, making this week a close race between three comedies.

Judging by reviews, The Proposal (3,056 theatres) appears to be a typical romantic comedy, slick and well-acted, but hampered by its predictable format. Our executive editor Kevin Lally praised the chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, saying, "The situations may be formulaic, but the teamwork of the two leads brings them to sparkling life." Manohla Dargis at the NY Times was not so kind, lamenting the repetition of stereotypical rom-com setups. However, even she noted that Bullock and Reynolds pulled off good performances, adding that Bullock's "no shrew in need of taming. She's just another female movie star in need of a vehicle that won't throw her overboard for sexist giggles and laughs."

Year One (3,022 theatres), which comes from writer/director Harold Ramis (read an interview with him here), has also been received with shrugs. Despite Ramis' pedigree (he's responsible for Year one Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, and Analyze This), our Frank Scheck found that "the script�co-written by Ramis and the team of Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (NBC's "The Office")�is strictly bargain-basement, offering a plethora of poop, sex and fart jokes and vulgarity without a smidgen of wit." EW's Owen Gleiberman found the comedy provoked only a "handful of chuckles," and pronounced it "silliness run mildly wild."

With these so-so reviews, I wouldn't be surprised if audiences again choose The Hangover, whose humor is neither stale nor ancient, but shocking to the point that at least some viewers will come away repulsed, not indifferent.

On the specialty side, another comedy opens this weekend: Whatever Works, the latest from Woody Allen. Dana Stevens from Slate opened her review of the film this way: "Imagine if Annie Hall had been forgotten in a Ziploc bag under your couch cushions and left there for 30 years." Needless to say, it did not play well for her. Whatever Works will compete with quirky comedy Away We Go, which will move into 134 theatres with hopes to cross the $1 million mark.

Next week, the machines are back with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which will be joined by weepie My Sister's Keeper.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reese takes on the drug industry in 'Pharm Girl'

By Sarah Sluis

The latest addition to Reese Witherspoon's development slate, Pharm Girl, sounds like a clever rehash of Legally Blonde, switching out one profession for the other and upping the character's age Reese-witherspoon-picture-4 to match Witherspoon's. Given the success of the sorority girl-turned-lawyer tale, repetition's not necessarily a bad thing.

The comedy will follow Witherspoon's character after she is hired to work for a "pharma powerhouse." As she is promoted within and becomes more visible, she is exposed to the dark side of the industry. In Election and Legally Blonde, Witherspoon excelled at playing characters who pursue a goal that we, as an audience, know will result in a big crash later on. She makes her characters entirely believable and even empathetic. They're driven by their sense of idealism (say, when she played an abstinence advocate in Cruel Intentions), but she does such a good job of showing us the character's pure motivation, we can't help but respect their allegiance to class presidency/abstinence/the color pink, and we're with them even after they fall.

The writers of Bad Santa, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, plan to write and potentially co-direct the project. In both Bad Santa and Legally Blonde, the characters must step up, not subsume, their quirky personalities to succeed, so I imagine that Witherspoon will have to go back to her down-home idealist pharma roots to set things right with the world. I can't think of a better team of writers to replicate the wacky comedy of Legally Blonde, in which Witherspoon was able to believably save the day in the courtroom due to her knowledge of perming techniques. The writers could also help Witherspoon rough up her image a bit. Bad Santa was a truly shocking, vulgar, not-for-everyone comedy. That willingness to go to the edge, paired with an actress so good at making people like her, could lead to some unpredictable, fresh jokes.

On the other hand, the success of A-List-free The Hangover over star-driven Land of the Lost should lend some caution to the production. Similar ensemble romantic comedies like He's Just Not That Into You and Love, Actually have an aura of freshness that's more appealing than single-romance, one-star tales like My Life in Ruins. Just today, Cinematical wrote an article asking, "Is the star system dead?", and the sense that stars cannot carry project after project of the same old should be a nagging worry in producers' minds.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bringing 'Bride of Frankenstein' back to life

By Sarah Sluis

If you've ever done the Universal Studios studio tour in California, you might recall the clip montages that feature the studio's countless horror titles. What I think is so interesting about Universal's horror 200px-Brideoffrankposter films is that few people have actually seen the originals, but because the characters have been reused so much, they have an air of familiarity. Even if you've never seen Frankenstein, you know what Boris Karloff looks like in the role, and you can probably recognize the white-streaked bouffant do of the Bride of Frankenstein.

The announcement that Neil Burger has been assigned to dust off Bride of Frankenstein is just one of the many Universal horror remakes in the works. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is in the development for 2011, and The Wolf Man will release this November. For Burger, the project will mark the third time he has taken on the dual role of writer/director. He most recently wrote and helmed The Lucky Ones, and in 2006 he took on The Illusionist, which has a tone and visuals that indicate his ability to take on the horror genre.

What Universal has on its side for its remakes, over other films that borrow from Universal's horror mythology, is authenticity. No other film can actually call itself Bride of Frankenstein. Even if a plot receives an extremely modern update, it will still be viewed as the true heir to the title. However, I think this means that viewers will also expect something that hews more closely to the original: that's my guess as to why a screenplay for Bride submitted by writers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini a few years ago was nixed. Their version was a bit of the "I would rescue my loved one at any cost" variety: set in New York City (not a mountainous stone castle), and revolving around a man who Bride_of_frankenstein_elsa_lanchester2 decides to bring his lover back from the dead.

The excruciating part of the original is that the eponymous character, the bride, doesn't appear until the end of the film. It's a bit against our expectations, but I think that makes the film more unusual and interesting. For the update, I put this plot point on the "endangered" list. Still, it will probably be years before Bride is pulled together. In the meantime, I'm excited for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was a delightfully campy and terrifying addition to my grade school sleepovers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A 'Black Swan' and a DiCaprio-led poker game

By Sarah Sluis

A rare occurrence: not one, but two projects that I'll look forward to seeing at the multiplex were announced today:

TheRedShoes The star/director package of Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky will take on Black Swan, a supernatural thriller set in the New York dance world--think The Others' Red Shoes. Portman will play a ballet dancer lost in a competition with a rival--but she may or may not exist, a twist which has drawn comparisons to The Others. One hopes that Aronoksky is a fan of The Red Shoes (1948), the famous dance-focused drama that gave dancing an almost supernatural power, tying it back to the drama of the story. With a character dancing to her suicide, it's a shivery mix of dark and light that I hope the director will turn to as he develops the project.

As for the talent:
-Natalie Portman already looks like a dancer. She's done just about every genre, but I don't see a supernatural thriller in her IMDB history, so we'd get to see her take on something a bit different. She shaved her head in V for Vendetta, and wore that weird head gear in Star Wars, so she's willing to change herself physically for her roles--I imagine her being able to look even more ballerina-esque.
-Darren Aronofsky knows how to work and direct actors physically. He's exceptional at highlighting physical pain, whether it's Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler or all the various addicts in Requiem for a Dream.
-There's a dearth of good supernatural thrillers, movies that are creepy without being horror films. I loved The Others, The Orphanage (a Spanish film), What Lies Beneath, Ghost, and even The Skeleton Key. The problem is, without going to straight horror, you have to work a lot harder to create quality suspense, my guess as to why there aren't more Rosemary's Baby-type films out there.

In the other big announcement of today, Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an online poker film. The offshore casino, which figures into the plot, is in Costa Rica. The writing team behind Rounders and Leonardo_DiCaprio - 1 - Blood_Diamond Ocean's 13, Brian Koppelman and David Levien, penned the project, so it comes from people experienced at writing pages about card sharks. I'm always interested in projects that pivot around the Internet, because the act of staring at a screen is so unexciting directors and screenwriters have to be quite creative. How many times have you watched a character who is himself watching a computer screen loading? It tends to inspire either total boredom or complete slickness. Somehow, I'm seeing this project as having more of a Miami Vice slickness rather than a Vegas polish, perhaps because of the Costa Rica location. While I'd prefer not to see Don Johnson-inspired wardrobing, DiCaprio can sell me on just about everything--except maybe the clunker Body of Lies.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Party's still on for 'The Hangover'

By Sarah Sluis

The Hangover has hit the jackpot. Last week it was the surprise #1. The day after Up was declared the winner, higher-than-estimated Sunday grosses pushed The Hangover to the top spot. This Hangover zach week, the Las Vegas comedy dropped a mere 25% to earn $33.4 million. Thanks to high weekday grosses, its cumulative box office has already passed the nine-figure mark: $105,000,000. With a $9,960 per-screen average, plenty of people were turned away from Friday and Saturday night screenings, ensuring high grosses in weeks to come.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 opened lower on the list, taking in $25 million and the #3 spot. It's a solid opening for an actioner that didn't receive much buzz. Lower on the list, the lightly marketed Imagine That came up with just $5.7 million at #6. Family audiences likely chose the much higher regarded Up over the Eddie Murphy film. In its third week, Up soared to $187 million cumulative, bringing in $30.5 million while losing just 30% of its gross.

Of the rest of the films in the top ten, Land of the Lost dropped the most (51%), followed by Drag Me to Hell (45%) and Terminator Salvation (43%). Of the three, Drag Me to Hell was the best reviewed, so it may actually be defying the precipitous drops (of 50-70%) often seen with horror titles.

Dropping between 32-35%, generally considered a better-than-average performance, were Star Trek, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and Angels & Demons. All these films have crossed the $100 million mark (and Trek the $200 million mark), so their mid-30's drops will help boost the ends of their runs.

On the specialty side, Food, Inc. was the clear winner, earning $21,000 on each of its three screens. Moon followed with $18,000 on eight screens, and Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro came in with Food inc burger king $15,000 on two screens. All are stellar performances, and bode well for the films' expansion.

This week, ancient-times comedy Year One will try to perform more like The Hangover and less like Land of the Lost. Sandra Bullock rom-com The Proposal, the first of the genre since Ghosts of Girlfriends Past released on May 1st, also stands to do exceptional business for romance-starved audiences.

Friday, June 12, 2009

'Pelham' hopes to take 1, 2, or 3

By Sarah Sluis

With so many good films piling up in theatres, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (3,074 theatres) and Imagine That (3,008 theatres) may have a tough time making waves at the box office. While Pelham Denzel washington pelham has a shot at number one, prognosticators estimate the film will pull in roughly $20 million--the same amount The Hangover and Up should settle at. Reviews for the film have been middling, as it requires some suspension of disbelief to get on board with the characters and plot. The New York Times' A.O. Scott enjoyed watching Denzel Washington and John Travolta "barreling through every clich and nugget of corn the script has to offer with verve and conviction. Even when you don't really believe them, they're always a lot of fun to watch," while Michael Rechtshaffen found "the sleek new edition isn't as transporting as it should have been." Pelham's no runaway train, but it just can't quite pull everything off.

Imagine That has received barely a blip in marketing, usually a sign that the studio has little faith in the film, but our reviewer Kirk Honeycutt found the banter between Eddie Murphy and child actor YaraImagine that duo Shahidi top-notch. He commends the director, Karey Kirkpatrick, for "[knowing] how to entertain children while amusing adults," and "[using] Murphy much better than many past directors, not letting him run away with the film, but forcing him to work with the story and his character." For some reason, Variety pegs the potential audience as moms and girls (which might explain why marketers abandoned it), but it seems like the kind of film a whole family would enjoy. That is, unless watching Eddie Murphy being chastised for being an absentee father is a bit too squirm-inducing for most dads.

On the specialty front, festival favorite Moon, directed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, opens in New York and L.A. "[A] meditation on the conflict between the streamlining tendencies of Moon bowie technological progress and the stubborn persistence of feelings and desires that can't be tamed by utilitarian imperatives," as summarized by A.O. Scott," the film has been commended by critics for its minimalism, which they also view as something of a fault. "There may simply have been too little in Parker's script to play with beyond a couple of plot twists," FJI's Chris Barsanti noted.

Also opening in New York and L.A., Food, Inc. provides a rundown of the organic, local, anti-agribusiness movement. I blogged about the documentary last week, and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more, or become more fervently devoted to, the food movement.

On Monday, I'll recap to see if Pelham will be able to debut above holdovers The Hangover and Up, and if Imagine That will manage to exceed the modest expectations set by Paramount.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Will 'Chief Ron' be worth the gamble?

By Sarah Sluis

When I heard the plot line of Chief Ron, my initial reaction (that one you're supposed to either trust or ignore) was extreme wariness. A huckster, who doesn't "look" Indian, poses as a member of the MOHEGAN Mohegan tribe in an attempt to start his own casino. What's funny is that it's based on a true story, in which a blond, blue-eyed Indian successfully won a court case that established his ancestry and allowed him to set up a casino, but in the comedy version, the guy will be a fake (at least until the third act, perhaps?).

Justin Theroux, who co-wrote Tropic Thunder (which you may remember for Robert Downey, Jr.'s blackface character) will direct from a script by Jordan Roberts (Around the Bend). I'm all about using comedy to explore the racial politics that underscore tribal casinos, but will a mainstream studio picture be able to effectively do this? The premise incorporates several hotly contested issues: blood quantum, or "how much" makes you a certain race, and the political rights of tribes governed as "domestic dependent nations" (which means independent, but not really). Will it be able to engage with these arguments, or merely bow to widely held stereotypes? As someone who has lived near Indian casinos and heard both sides of the debate, often phrased in racial terms, and studied under an indigenous rights scholar in college, I'm perhaps more sensitive to these issues than most people, but that doesn't mean these viewpoints should be ignored.

Looking at debates that occurred over Tropic Thunder last year (turns out the movie also got heat for making jokes about people with disabilities), the best I can hope for is that the film's treatment of Tropic_Thunder these stereotypes will bring awareness to the political issues surrounding Native Americans, much like Downey's performance encouraged debates about black/white relations, as people argued about whether or not the jokes were offensive (even in the YouTube comments section!). Last year I saw the Tropic Thunder trailer several times in theatres, and there's a particular joke (at 2:00) that inspired a wave of shocked laughter: Downey, Jr (in blackface) taking offense to a perceived racial slight, saying, "What do you mean, you people?" followed by Alpa Cino (who is actually black) saying "What do you mean, you people?" The joke seemed to relax people into laughter, by implying that being sensitive to racial slights is actually more problematic. At least that's my reading of the joke.

Who knows how much of this subtext was in Tropic of Thunder's script, and how much was in Robert Downey, Jr.'s delivery? After all, he did receive an Oscar nomination for the astounding fact that he managed to play a role in blackface without totally misfiring. I can only hope that Chief Ron will be able to handle the political issues they got themselves into with the plot with sensitivity, and, most importantly, humor. If they fail at that, you can always rent Smoke Signals.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Will 3D technology be adopted like color, or like sound?

By Sarah Sluis

"3D is not like sound, but color," James Cameron recently pronounced. For those versed in film history, the statement is profound. If the 3D format is indeed like color, it could take decades for it to fully penetrate film production. It will first be used for event, fantasy, and animated films, before Gone with the wind technicolor dramas, comedies, and Oscar contenders embrace the form. While the idea of 3D taking so long to become a default part of production seems like a strike against the format, it instead speaks to its longevity. 3D will not a passing gimmick, James Cameron is saying, but something that will contribute to a film's verisimilitude.

When sound was introduced, with The Jazz Singer, it took just a few years for all films to be produced using sound. Howard Hughes famously re-did much of his film Hell's Angels once it appeared that sound was essential for blockbuster success. Title cards, along with mouthed words, felt fake, while sound made everything real--the technology brought the form closer to the plays and vaudeville shows film so often emulated.

Color, on the other, hand, was viewed as unrealistic, expensive, or suitable only for event films. The saturated colors in The Wizard of Oz, for example, are used in the fantasy segment, not the Kansas part. While that film used the newer three-strip Technicolor process, its technological predecessors were clearly fake and gimmicky, much like 1950s 3D technology. Viewers were skeptical. In the early days of the nickelodeons, select frames (like a fire, or a

woman's dress) would be hand-painted for Swin03 effect. However meticulously

done, they have an unfortunate pulsating effect

due to the difficulty of consistently drawing within the lines. The

two-tone Technicolor process that succeeded it likewise has an

inaccuracy that I find charming but contemporaneous audiences found

too stylized and unreal. Three-strip Technicolor was the breakthrough that finally made color look real, just like Real D and its ilk, but it still took decades before an average film would use the process.

As with color, Hollywood will probably begin to give out awards to its 3D films, but it won't be a condition for success. Gone with the Wind (1939) won the Best Picture Oscar, but black & white films continued to win the top prize through the 1960s (The Apartment, anyone?). As for sound? Wings, a The apartment wartime romance blockbuster, won the first Best Picture Oscar, and the only one for a silent film. If Cameron's argument is correct, we shouldn't worry that a minority of films are being made in 3D, but trust that the animated, concert, and action films using the format are setting the tone. Someday, awards biopics like Milk and indie dramedies like Squid & The Whale will be made in 3D.

Films like Up, which use 3D as an accent, not for in-your-face gimmicks, speak to the future of the format. Pixar's film is the frontrunner for Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Oscars. If Cameron's right, his 3D adventure Avatar may be joining it at the podium, slowly ushering in an age where 3D isn't a selling point, but a prerequisite.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Teens shed their avatars and take on adventure in 'The Defenders'

By Sarah Sluis

I instantly took to the premise of The Defenders, because it combines a culturally relevant premise with an optimistic, throwback tone. The idea is, take some hard-core gaming teens, the kind who Mmorpg game spend their free time playing massive multi-player online role-playing games (abbreviated to MMPORG) and make them part of a real adventure. The question is, will they be able to replicate the bravery and ingenuity of their avatars in real life? This project will allow filmmakers to comment on that fuzzy line between reality and cyberspace, and man vs. machine (or in this case, avatar), while at the same time give a nod to the "get the kids outside!" movement.

The other thing going for this project is the tone. Masi Oka, a star of "Heroes" who has also worked as an ILM effects artist, pitched the project, and his combination of artistic and technical savvy (he's also an avid gamer) gives the project the advantage of providing audiences an insider perspective on gamer culture. The writer on the project, Gary Whittas (upcoming The Book of Eli) is also a big gamer, which will also add credence. Producers Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci, who recently gave us the accessible sci-fi update of Star Trek, plan to keep the adventure fun and light, along the lines of The Goonies, which Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment produced. I doubt anyone will be confused by an Masi-oka-070511-big over-reliance on gamer jargon.

The project seems a reverse of the popular young adult book Ender's Game, in which talented children were inserted into video games with real-life consequences. Published in 1977, when computers were still a novelty, it's funny how the opposite premise--forcing people into an adventure in the real world, not online--now seems more compelling. Let's not forget the similarities to The Matrix (1999) or upcoming Surrogates, both of which take place in sci-fi worlds where physical avatars roam the streets. The idea of being shortchanged or threatened by our creations is that great Frankenstein concept that keeps on giving. I love that this film plans to avoid that post-apocalyptic future setting, but instead make it about kids who finally have a chance to live up to their brave avatar personas. It's rewarding and feel-good. D.J. Caruso, whose contributions to PG-13 action film Eagle Eye wowed Orci and Kurtzman, is attached as a director. He also has Jack the Giant Killer, a fairy tale update, in the New Line pipeline, and Orci and Kurtzman have a Star Trek sequel in the works, so there's no telling when this project will make it to the big screen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

'Hangover' lasts through weekend, 'Land' lost

By Sarah Sluis

In this week's battle of the comedies, a low-budget, almost gonzo-shot movie won out over a CGI Hangover wedding chapel extravaganza. The Hangover earned $43.2 million this weekend, while Land of the Lost came in below expectations, to the tune of $19.5 million I'm hardly surprised.

Having seen (and liked) both of the comedies, I can see why The Hangover won out: it's a raunchy 'R' with shock comedy that's built up like horror. Its stars have unknown brands of humor, they're older, and the film has an inventive plot structure and premise. Funny thing is, these are all qualities that should count against the film: an 'R' should slice out younger viewers, the older stars should alienate teens and twentysomethings, women should be turned off by the bachelor party antics, and haven't we seen some Vegas films before? Land of the Lost, on the other hand, is a spin-off from a proven (if dated) television show, and stars Will Ferrell, two points that should have driven, not dampened Land of the lostinterest. Ultimately, The Hangover came off as fresh, while Land of the Lost seemed like more of the same.

I'm curious how The Hangover will play in weeks to come. Its shock moments definitely inspire the "Dude, you've got to see this!" that makes for a word-of-mouth hit. With minimal drop-off within the weekend, it appears that the film could be on a weeks-long ride to a jackpot.

Dropping just 35%, Up edged out The Hangover to earn $44.2 million. Including weekday grosses, it's already earned $137.3 million, and I expect it will cross over to $200 million within another couple of weeks, joining Star Trek in the summer movie blockbuster club.

My Life in Ruins came in at #9 this weekend, earning $3.2 million. Its per-screen average isn't stellar by summer movie standards, just $2,700, so unless it manages to drop minimally, this will be its first and last week in the top ten. Despite so-so reviews, Away We Go brought in an astounding Away we go $35,000 per screen in its four-screen release. With plans for expansion the next couple of weeks, the film could end up doing much better than the reviews forecasted.

Next week, kid-fantasy picture Imagine That opens, along with the Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Both have comparable offerings in the top ten: Imagine That overlaps with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Up. Pelham shares audiences with action-thrillers like Angels & Demons, Star Trek, and Terminator Salvation, a stark contrast from this weekend, in which the two comedies had a wide-open field.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Weekend choices: 'Lost,' 'In Ruins,' or 'Hangover'

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend, it's the battle of the comedies. Each targets a slightly different segment of the comedy crowd. Because of its PG-13-rating, $100 million budget, and big-name star Will Ferrell, Land of the Lost is the front-runner to come in behind Up this weekend. However, low-budget, R-rated The Hangover could give it a run for its money, despite its comparatively miniscule budget. Advance ticket sales for The Hangover surged yesterday, bumping its total pre-sales up to 35% of all advance tickets, while Land of the Lost has only 9%.

The Hangover (3,269 theatres) went from production to release in less than a year. It literally started The hangover shooting last fall, and a sequel has already been green-lighted: the studio believes in this one. It appears the PR people have anointed Zach Galifianakis as the star to showcase. The NY Times Magazine profiled him and his offbeat humor, and New York Magazine did a Q&A. The movie is incredibly raunchy and a hard R. I loved the way the emphasis wasn't on the characters doing crazy things to make the audience laugh, but them trying to figure out what crazy things they had done during the night they didn't remember. It put less pressure on the audience to laugh, making the film much funnier. The "mystery" framing makes the reveals shockingly funny. There's a real sense of surprise, especially in the reactions, that doesn't feel performed or staged.

Land of the Lost (3,521 theatres) is a comedic adventure in a crazy world. If you come in with no expectations, as I did, you'll probably enjoy it. In a nod to its detractors, it's not ground-breaking Land of the lost comedy, and has unevenly balanced humor. I think the biggest problem people have been having with the movie is that the comedy never grounds itself: it's crazy people in a crazy environment. For me, Danny McBride was able to be the yin to Ferrell's yang and balance his overblown, egotistical character. I expect that teen audiences will enjoy the film, but interest will drop as age, and comedic savviness, increase.

My Life in Ruins (1,164 theatres), which our reviewer Doris Toumarkine called "bland but sweet-as-baklava," also opens in wide release, but on the small side. If Fox Searchlight took care in selecting those theatres, it could open with a high per-screen average, My life in ruins despite the fact that it's not expected to open particularly high. On television, star Nia Vardalos has been pleading with female audiences to "vote with their pocketbook and see the film opening weekend in order to give more female directors and female-oriented films a chance." I find the argument strange, especially since My Big Fat Greek Wedding was known for its slowly increasing rollout--it had its highest weekly gross four months after its release, and never earned more than $14.8 million in one weekend. Even that was over a three-day Labor day holiday. Despite this unconventional pattern, it grossed $241 million. I think that instead of trying to make middle-aged women act like teenage boys who drop their Wiis to catch a film right that Friday night, studios should respect, and market to, an audience that prefers to see films recommended by their friends, and might take weeks to "get around" to seeing a movie. The proof is in the profit.

While the three films releasing this weekend will provide a much-needed comedic relief, the most buoyant title is Up, which is expected to return to the top spot this weekend after glowing reviews. It earned $68 million its opening weekend, and its weekday grosses are above-average, totaling $86 million as of Wednesday.

On the specialty front, Focus Features releases Away We Go in 4 theatres. Even though it's a film many wanted to love, especially with its pedigree writer and director--Dave Eggers wrote and Sam Mendes helmed--it seems to fall flat. The film will expand over the next two weeks, so it will be looking for strong opening weekend per-screen averages.

Next weekend, Speed-on-a-train film, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, will open wide, along with family comedy Imagine That, which stars Eddie Murphy. Disney is also sneaking The Proposal, hoping to drum up business for a big opening weekend.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

High school reading lists coming to a theatre near you

By Sarah Sluis

Turning high schoolers' required reading into easily digestible adaptations gave Hollywood a great deal of success during the mid-1990s. Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet (1996), Clueless (1995), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999, with Heath Ledger) and latecomer O (2001, from Othello) captivated teen audiences--and were frequently rented before midterms or shown as a treat in classrooms. Now, two projects are attempting to revive the classics-to-modern-classroom genre.

Emile Hirsch, who starred in Into the Wild, Milk, and The Lords of Dogtown, apparently pitched the Emile hirsh idea to retell Hamlet, that high school Shakespearean staple, for the teen crowd. After being passed over for the Twilight sequel, Catherine Hardwicke will direct for Overture. Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner will pen a script

that will star Hirsch as the young Hamlet. He must decide what to do after his father, the president of a small liberal arts college (another favorite place for teen suspense thrillers, a la

The Skulls), is murdered. The director and producers' vision is to turn the film into a suspense thriller and move some of the offstage drama on-screen.

The idea of adapting The Scarlet Letter to a high school setting seems tricky and slightly misguided, especially when teen films like Juno have de-guilted single motherhood. In that film, her classmates of Juno, while a bit mean, have better things to do than to bug her. How do you tell the puritanical story of a single mother ostracized from her community and forced to wear an "A" on her chest, while the popular village priest suffers from the guilt of his invisible "A," when high schools are probably the furthest thing away from puritanical? The ABC Family network has probably come the closest to tackling the subject in the series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which got early dramatic mileage out of the fact that the unknown father was mega-popular (a.k.a. The Priest).

It seems that the teen film Easy A, which will star Emma Stone in the Hester Prynne-like role, struggled most with depicting the transgressions of the Hester Prynne character. In each version of the script, she never actually does anything. In the first version, she falsely spread rumors that sheEmma stone was promiscuous to gain attention (What?), but now it appears that other people will circulate those rumors about her (sounds more believable). Stone will then perform some expert PR and use the rumors to pit the conservative and liberal students and teachers against each other, not her. As if that wasn't enough, MTV Movies Blog warns, "Don't be surprised if you see Stone sporting pilgrim gear in dual roles," since a proposed parallel storyline involves Stone playing the actual Prynne. The last item makes me officially afraid. It's either going to be extremely heavy-handed, or an all-out parody.

Will Gluck (Fired Up) will direct the film, and a cast of familiar names lends support: Lisa Kudrow, Penn Badgley ("Gossip Girl"), Cam Gigandet (Twilight), Thomas Haden Church, and Patricia Clarkson have all been named. Compared to Easy A, the relative simplicity of Hamlet seems refreshing. With a classic work of literature on your side, there's a certain level of quality you have to begin with--easily destroyed in the adaptation process.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

'Food, Inc.' is worth digesting

By Sarah Sluis

If you're one of the millions of people who eagerly consumed Fast Food Nation, and followed it up with Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, the documentary Food, Inc. will drive home the Food inc poster points of these books in an easily digestible, tear-jerking, visual experience.

At the screening I attended, the critics (usually a quiet bunch) occasionally let out an "mm-hm" or sympathetic scoff to punctuate some of the documentary's points: Preacher, meet choir. Food, Inc.'s tri-city release on June 12th will distribute the film to the sympathetic, liberal cities of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, so it remains to be seen whether this documentary would be a successful conversion device if you were to drag along a reticent relative or friend.

Food, Inc. focuses on the whole range of food politics: legislation, corporate practices, local farms vs. factory farming, food safety, nutrition, the effects of fast food, and the class issues surrounding food consumption. While most of us are familiar with the basics of these debates, the examples offered by Robert Kenner, who has directed episodes of PBS's "American Experience," make all the difference. While many people are sickened by food, I was sickened by the story of a mother whose son was killed by a burger tainted with E.coli. Sadly,

although testing at the plant turned up the virus, the meat was not

recalled until weeks after her son had already eaten the burger. Her pursuit of the passage of Kevin's Law, which would require speedy notification of food contamination, is one of the most Food inc touching vignettes of the film.

Because Food, Inc. looks at food from the farm to the table, it's able to showcase unusual solutions to problems like E.coli contamination in meat. Turns out, fixing this isn't just about plant cleanliness, but grazing practices that promote the virus. According to the food scientists interviewed in the film, E.coli multiply in the gut when cows are fed corn instead of grass. Feeding cows grass a week before slaughter will remove the majority of E.coli from their gut, but the expensive practice simply isn't part of the corporate slaughterhouse process.

Factoids like these are the kind of things evangelists like to share over dinner with friends (perhaps to their consternation), and there's plenty more in Food, Inc. It never felt too didactic to me, but rather took the role of a microphone, amplifying and neatly laying out the arguments of prominent activists. The interview with the CEO of Stonyfield Farm yogurt, Gary Hirshberg, is one such standout segment. The former radical now sells his products in Wal-Mart, and sold the company to the corporation that Food inc 3 produces Dannon yogurt. While these choices have made his liberal friends aghast, he sees the growth of organic companies as a way to reduce the net amount of pesticides and negative byproducts in our ecosystem. With most of the organic upstarts (like Kashi, for example) being acquired by the big food companies, the question floating around is, will these companies be able to scale up the organic, free-range movement and improve the quality and safety of our food? Or will growth compromise the core tenets of these companies, like locally sourced food?

Food, Inc. is a thought-provoking documentary, though even a convert like me found a few moments that relied more on emotion and exaggeration than statements backed up by firm research. With food politics such a hot topic, this documentary is required viewing for anyone who's ever reached for organic milk, or drawn back once they've viewed its price.

Food, Inc.'s website can be accessed here.
A NY Times article about the bottoming-out of the organic milk market can be read here.
Sneak-peek clips of Food, Inc. viewable here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Universal finds 'Where's Waldo?' and Javier Bardem joins 'Wall Street II'

By Sarah Sluis

As a kid, I could never find Waldo in the Where's Waldo? books, but it looks like I'll have a much WheresWaldo easier time seeing him on the big screen. Universal and Illumination Entertainment won the bidding war to turn the books series into a movie. There's no plot or characterization in the books, which usually feature Waldo hiding among a chaotic mass of people, many of them misbehaving, but I imagine him as a wide-eyed observer, lost in his own world. In my mind, there's a bit of Mr. Magoo, Buster Keaton, or Inspector Clouseau (The Pink Panther) in Waldo--that certain kind of charming obliviousness. The other appealing part of this project would be the possibility for elaborate visuals: sight gags, crowd scenes, and humor only visible to the audience. Because Where's Waldo? is more of a game than a book, the acquisition bears the most resemblance to the Hasbro properties that have been picked up--like Monopoly, Transformers, and Clue. With a fairly blank slate, it will be up to the (as-yet-unnamed) team of screenwriters to come up with a suitable character and adventure for the striped, bespectacled chameleon.

Oliver Stone's Wall Street II added Javier Bardem to its cast in the role of an evil hedge funder. I couldn't take my eyes off Bardem in No Country for Old Men (the role for which he won an Oscar), so I'm excited to see him reprise the role of a villain. Nikki Finke also fleshed out additional Javier_bardem details of the plot: Bardem will play an unscrupulous manager of a hedge fund who has been shorting stocks. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) will be wrapped up in his attempts to patch up his relationship with his estranged daughter, when his daughter's fiance, LaBeouf, approaches him for help after his mentor commits a mysterious suicide. Douglas agrees to offer his input, since he sees Wall Street's impending crisis, but only if LaBeouf can help him reunite with his daughter. This sequel seems to tie in family and romantic relationships much more heavily than the original, but these could, of course, be de-emphasized in the film. As someone who loved Wall Street, I'm thrilled to see Gekko on the big screen again, in what seems to be a promising launch of the sequel, fast-tracked for an August production start date.

Monday, June 1, 2009

'Up' high at the box office

By Sarah Sluis

Up, Pixar's entry in the '09 summer box office, bested last year's Wall-E to gross $68.2 million, slightly more than the robot film's $63 million opening. While detractors feared the elderly main character Up pixar cast would turn off younger viewers, 31% of seats were filled by kids 2-11, and it appears the old-young pairing piqued the interest of a wider range of viewers. Disney reported the film did well even in past-bedtime showings, which would usually have a significant drop-off.

While Up didn't use 3D for any gimmicky effects (like Monsters vs. Aliens), audiences overwhelmingly paid the extra $2 or so to see the film with glasses. Its 1,534 3D venues grossed $24,000 per screen, sell-out levels, and 2.2 times that of 2D screens. That meant that while only 40% of the screens were 3D, over half the gross came from these venues, another checkmark in favor of 3D's profitability.

The other debut of the week, Drag Me To Hell, earned $16.6 million, slightly over Terminator Salvation's second-week total of $16.1 million. The horror film played best on Friday, with slight Drag me to hell old lady drops on Saturday and Sunday. Because of the film's positive reviews, the studio hopes it won't disappear as fast as most horror titles, and will drum up business from strong word-of-mouth.

The 62% drop in Terminator Salvation may not be as bad for the franchise as it seems. Most films dropped at least 50% this week, since last week's Memorial Day holiday added business not just on Monday, but throughout the weekend. Wolverine dropped 69% in its second weekend (although the X-Men film had a stronger opening weekend), so the re-launch is merely a more middling entry among films with both costs and grosses above $100 million (at $90 million, Terminator will likely cross that mark this week).

Star Trek dropped two spots to number five, earning $12.8 million and crossing the $200 million mark, making it the most successful release among May tentpoles. At numbers nine and ten, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Obsessed earned $1.9 million and $665,000, respectively. After five and six weeks at the box office, the films have quietly earned $50 and $67 million, sure signs of profitability for the relatively low-budget films.

On the specialty front, The Brothers Bloom expanded and almost cracked the top ten, coming in with $652,000 at is 148 locations. Departures made $8,000 per screen at its nine locations, and inspiring documentary Pressure Cooker, which follows low-income students trying to win scholarships, guided by a tough culinary instructor, also made $8,000 per screen at its single location.

Next weekend, Up will be joined by light-hearted fare across the board. Night-of-abandon comedy The Hangover will battle with prehistoric comedy-adventure Land of the Lost. A smaller-scale release of romantic comedy My Life in Ruins, which stars Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, will round out Friday's offerings.