Friday, July 31, 2009

'Funny People' looks out for number one

By Sarah Sluis

While almost everyone in the industry thinks Funny People (3,008 screens) will be able to grab the number one spot this weekend, its exact gross is more uncertain, with estimates ranging from $20 to $30 Funny people act million. The film itself is similarly ambiguous, uneven and not immediately satisfying. It's the kind of movie you keep on thinking about after the lights go up. While I liked it far less than The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, it's a film I would want to revisit a few more Judd Apatow pictures down the line. Since Universal announced today that it signed a three-picture deal with Apatow, including an option for him to make films outside the studio, it looks as though the writer-director will have several more chances to add to his body of work. FJI's Executive Editor Kevin Lally called the death-centered comedy Apatow's "most ambitious film, which is both a good and bad thing for the audience. Good, because he's not playing it safe and repeating himself; bad, because the movie falls short of fulfilling its risky ambitions." I suspect this movie will underperform, but its risk-taking increases my respect for Apatow as a director.

Going to battle against the numerous kid films in release, Aliens in the Attic will open in 3,106 theatres.Aliens attic It's expected to perform below Harry Potter 6 and G-Force, making it a likely candidate for the number four spot. With its horror-lite tone and High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale, the movie is likely to do best among young boys.

Horror film The Collector will scare audiences in 1,325 theatres. While the movie wasn't screened for critics, its trailer has rather striking visuals, and the tale comes from the writers of the Saw sequels. The premise is intriguingly moralistic: a thief breaks into a house, only to discover that the family has been held captive by something or someone far more sinister--and he helps save the family he intended to rob.

On the specialty front, documentary The Cove opens in 4 theatres. The filmmaking activists pursue their Thirst goal--to record the inhumane slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan--Ocean's Eleven style, adding suspense and allowing the audience to viacriously join the crusade. Vampire film Thirst opens on 4 screens. I adored the "cinematic maelstrom of bloodlust and sensual obsession projected through Park Chan-wook's runaway imagination," but its graphic, depraved representation can be difficult to watch and is certainly not for everyone. Adam, a "sensitive but not sentimental" romance in which one party has Asperger's, opened Wednesday on 4 screens, and Lorna's Silence, a Danish film from the award-wnning Dardennes Brothers about the relationship between a drug addict and the woman who married him for immigration reasons, will appear on 6 screens in New York and L.A. For family audiences and those seeking specialty fare (I would almost count Funny People in that category), it's another jam-packed summer weekend.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ron Howard to assemble Ludlum's 'Parsifal Mosaic'

By Sarah Sluis

Universal's looking for its next Bourne Identity, and it's chosen Ron Howard to lead the way. The Parsifal Mosiac, which is considered one of Robert Ludlum's best books, alongside The Bourne Identity, will be Ron-howard helmed by the Oscar winner. The globe-trotting espionage thriller centers on a man who sees his spy lover executed for being a double agent. The traumatic event makes him consider retirement, but then he encounters the woman, who wasn't really dead, in a chance meeting, setting off the typical twists and turns as he tries to get to the center of the intrigue. The international setting and intricate plot bring to mind Howard's earlier work on Dan Brown's two books, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. While both have been successes, particularly at the international box office (each earned about 70% of their gross abroad), they haven't been a sensation with domestic audiences. Perhaps the twists and turns seem more opaque when they're subtitled. Universal is hurting right now, so green-lighting a project from an author that has proven cinematic material, and bringing aboard a director who has successfully adapted a bestselling book seems appropriately risk-averse.

From the romantic comedy world, Jennifer Aniston signed on to Pumas, presumably a spin on the term "cougars," which refers to older women who "prey" on young men. She will play a thirty-something woman (Aniston herself is 40) who, along with a friend, has made a habit of dating young Jennifer-aniston-pregnant-with-vince-vaughn-child-12-1-2006 men. When they go on a ski trip, they run into a situation that "challenges their romantic expectations." My instinct is that this involves falling for an older man, which would be refreshing in that this would be portrayed as abnormal, as opposed to the usual May-December Hollywood age pairings (e.g. Six Days, Seven Nights). The screenwriter, Melissa Stack, found a place on 2007's Black List for her script I Want to ____ Your Sister, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the director signed on to the project, Wayne McClammy, gained acclaim for writing and directing the viral comedy short "I'm F------- Matt Damon" and its sequel "I'm F------ Ben Affleck." While this sounds like a fun set-up, I'm afraid it will hew too closely to the romantic comedy formula, in which a ridiculous hang-up (dating only younger guys) prevents someone from finding true love. One romantic comedy I am slightly more excited about is Liars (A-E), a road trip film in which a woman picks up forgotten items from a variety of exes on her way to President Obama's inauguration. While the inauguration inclusion could be a bit too nauseating a connection to young, spritely optimism, espeically a couple of years after it's happened, it's following the romantic comedy trend of focusing on a break-up instead of the initial connection. Emma Forest, recently named one of Variety's 10 screenwriters to watch, penned the screenplay after breaking off a year-long relationship with Colin Farrell. With Scott Rudin producing for Miramax, and Richard Linklater (School of Rock) directing, this looks like a niche romance that could ignite young audiences.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MoMa offers sneak peek at Tim Burton retrospective

By Sarah Sluis

Tim Burton's films, with their dark imagery and spindly characters, have enchanted audiences over the past twenty years. This November, New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) will present a retrospective BlueGirlwithWine_oil of his work that includes drawing, paintings, costumes, puppets and all of his films, which will be screened in MoMa's theatre.

While film is an infant medium compared to painting or sculpture, MoMa first highlighted a filmmaker seventy years ago, in 1939, when the museum curated an exhibit of Georges Mlis, the filmmaker famous for his experimentation with the film form and development of special effects (the picture of the moon with a spaceship sticking out of its eye, filmed in 1902, comes from him). The director of the museum, Glenn Lowry, who introduced the exhibit, highlighted MoMa's commitment to "modern art in all of its manifestations," and called Burton "one of our foremost auteur voices."

Burton himself was much more modest. He spoke of growing up in Burbank, California, where there wasn't much of a "museum culture." When asked by a reporter what his Mom would think about a curator's comparison of his work to Warhol's, he quipped that her response would be "Who's EDWARD_drawing Warhol?" While Burton has kept most of his work (550 of the over 700 works in the exhibit come from Burton himself), he hadn't really looked at much of it. He said the process had been a "re-energizing thing for me," describing himself as someone who doesn't usually mull over past works. Revisiting his Hansel & Gretel television movie (which reportedly aired on the Disney Channel once, on Halloween), for example, he was surprised to realize that elements of the movie had shown up in his later works. Sweeney Todd also centers on cannibalism, and Batman also uses paint-filled water balloons for dramatic effect. The spooky film (which would probably scare young children half to death) also featured the overly extended limbs that Burton so frequently uses to make his characters creepy (e.g. Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas) The witch has a candy-cane inspired nose, and long dismembered limbs reach out to capture Hansel. With only a video copy of the movie remaining, MoMa plans to install a special gallery projector that will improve the movie's quality.

Because Burton uses drawing to work out his ideas, this exhibition will give incredible access to his creative process. Even when we think of XMAS0001 a director's collection of films as the work of an auteur, most discussions are limited to the films themselves, and not the thought processes behind them or the material that informed the films. While Burton's work seems dark, creepy, and far from the mainstream, his movies have also been commercial. Rated from PG to R, he has made eerie films that appeal to all ages. From the trailer and early images of Burton's next project, Alice in Wonderland, it appears that Burton's retrospective at the MoMa may need a followup in years to come.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Robert Downey, Jr. schedules 'Due Date'

By Sarah Sluis

Robert Downey, Jr. will join Zach Galifianakis in Due Date, the next film Todd Phillips will direct. The Hangover, which starred Galifianakis and was directed by Phillips, outperformed two summer comedies with Robert-downey-jr big-name comedy stars (Land of the Lost and Year One), and usurped Beverly Hills Cop to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Phillips has already signed on to direct a second installment of The Hangover, but plans to squeeze in Due Date first. The deadline comedy will center on an uptight husband (Downey, Jr.) who must rely on a dopey slacker (Galifianakis) to drive him to his wife, who is either in labor or at the very end of her pregnancy. Phillips called it "a buddy comedy without the buddies." Within the one-sentence summary of the movie, I see elements of both a road trip comedy and a race-against-time comedy. I find the latter to be much more difficult to pull off, since there's only so much frantic yelling and scrambling audiences can take before they check out. However, The Hangover handled its deadline (finding the groom before the wedding) with a mix of freaked-out and laid-back characters, and by making the race to the altar a flashback (though not one that gave everything away).

Due Date will begin production this September in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New Mexico. Phillips will also be a producer on the project. On The Hangover, he gave back his salary and in turn was rewarded with over $35 million, a stunning sum for an individual. He also got Warner Bros. to greenlight the sequel two months before it released, signaling not only the strength of the film but also the finesse of his agent and lawyers.

Creating one good comedy after another is difficult. Just as soon as comedians develop a signature style, it can quickly go sour (e.g., Bruno). To expand his comedic empire, it appears that Phillips is attempting to cultivate a stable of writers (e.g., Scot Armstrong) and stars (e.g., Galifianakis), using a strategy that has Hangg received particular attention lately because of Judd Apatow and his string of comedic hits. For those interested in the movie/comedy business, Funny People, which I saw yesterday, offers a thinly disguised critique of comedy stars and the process as a whole, including a thinly disguised poke at star Adam Sandler's career. In the movie, he's the star of high-concept comedies like Merman (He turns into a merman!) and Re-Do (He's a man in a baby's body!). While the movie as a whole, and its insidery feel, is a mixed bag, I never tired of seeing how Apatow used the silly films Sandler's character starred in as part of the plot. Phillips, however, has mined a different source of humor, that fraternalistic bonding we now dub "bromance." Both Old School and Road Trip are tales of male bonding, and Phillips' first film was in fact a documentary about fraternity hazing called Frat House. Who would have thought that the documentarian would turn to scripted stories about his subject? But it makes sense. As a director, Phillips is careful to find and incorporate his actors' improv performances, a sensibility that I attribute to the observational mindset of a documentarian. It will be hard to top the #1 spot currently occupied by The Hangover, but I'll be marking my calendar for Due Date.

Monday, July 27, 2009

'G-Force' scurries over 'Harry Potter'

By Sarah Sluis

In an impressive 1-2-3 finish, the top three films this weekend each made around $30 million. G-Force, a spy caper cast with guinea pigs, took the #1 spot with $32.5 million, luring viewers with its blend of G force guinea "photorealistic CGI" and live action. In its second weekend, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince dropped 61%. While 50%-plus drops are normal for fan-based films, it's surprising that a movie with a two-week cumulative gross of $221 million didn't take the top spot for a second weekend. Still, with a $30 million second weekend, lucrative international box office, and the last book split into two films, Harry Potter has turned out to be the franchise that keeps on giving.

The Ugly Truth, a romantic comedy that hews closely to the genre's tired conventions, but "has just enough laughs to squeak by," rounded out the top three with a $27 million opening. Written by Legally Blonde's Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, the female-oriented film has drawn in its fair Ugly truth heigl butler share of moviegoers, but has left critics crying misogyny, and craving a more original take on the romcom formula.

Horror flick Orphan gathered up $12.7 million in tickets in its debut weekend. "Gimmicky though effective," Orphan passes up the chance to comment on "the crack-up of an American family [that] lies right under the filmmakers' noses," according to our critic Kirk Honeycutt, but for fans of the demonic child genre (and that's not the wizard-with-a-lightning-scar kind)," this "dumb" film is perfect for summer moviegoing.

Right below the top ten, Fox Searchlight's (500) Days of Summer expanded from 27 to 85 theatres and brought in $1.6 million, a 95% increase from last week. For a slowly expanding specialty release like (500) Days, this performance is in the sweet spot. IFC's In the Loop brought in $25,000 per theatre in 8 locations, making the "riotous satire" a film to watch in weeks to come.

This Friday, Judd Apatow-directed Funny People and Aliens in the Attic will open wide, along with specialty titles Thirst, The Cove, and Adam.

Monday, July 20, 2009

'Harry Potter' still magic; 'Bruno' gets box-office shock

By Kevin Lally

The fears that Harry Potter's youthful following had been diluted by the phenomenal success of the newer Harry_potter_and_the_half_blood_prince10 fantasy sensation Twilight were eased by the robust performance of the sixth entry in the Warner Bros. series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in its first five days at the box office. After a record $22.2 million generated by midnight performances last Wednesday, the numbers receded a bit, but still totaled a healthy $159.7 million from Wednesday witching hour through Sunday--the best launch in the series' history. That's great news for a youth-oriented franchise that first hit movie screens a full eight school years ago.

The number would have been even bigger had not the majority of IMAX screens remained committed to their runs of Transformers 2. The IMAX Transformers make way for the young wizardon July 29.

The news this weekend was not so magical for Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno, who dropped not only his knickers but a precipitous 73% at the weekend box office, generating only $8.4 million and a fourth place finish. Baron Cohen's movie may be just as outrageous as his Borat, but something is amiss. It could be that the novelty of his guerrilla comedy has worn off, or that Bruno is less endearing than the bumbling (though anti-Semitic) Borat. Or maybe the mass audience simply wasn't prepared for how raunchy an R-rated film in 2009 can be--especially when the shocks involve graphic simulations of gay sex. Looks like it may be time for Mr. Baron Cohen to develop a brand-new character and a new comic method.

Fox Searchlight continued its run of indie successes with the encouraging numbers for its clever romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, which earned $837,500 on 27 screens, a $37,000 per-screen average. The Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon-Levitt pairing expands to 75 locations next weekend.

Friday, July 17, 2009

'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' on its way to a magical weekend

By Sarah Sluis

This weekend, it's all about Potter. The 6th film in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, earned $100 million in 24 hours. $58.2 million came from its 4,235 U.S. theatres, and the other $45.8 Harry potter dumbledore million came from theatres abroad. No wonder Warner Bros. has decided to make the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, into two films. Most critics enjoyed the latest trip to Hogwarts, and took particular interest in seeing how the stars have grown up. Our reviewer Doris Toumarkine found the "packed" film to be "great fun and engaging populist movie entertainment, even at 153 minutes and even for those of voting age." By appealing to fans and casual viewers alike, I suspect that it will do business for much longer than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which slightly bested Half-Blood Prince's debut. Plus, next weekend the film will open on IMAX screens, after Transformers finishes its one-month run, which will boost its box office. Fan response, too, has been overwhelming. I'm getting a huge kick out of the "hp6" Twitter search, a multilingual homage to the muggles' excitement.

Releasing on just 27 screens, (500) Days of Summer is opening small in the hopes of setting off a snowball of word-of-mouth endorsement. I interviewed director Marc Webb before the film's release, and blogged my initial reaction back in April. One of the big pluses of (500) Days is that it allows you to watch a 500 days of summer romantic comedy without having to endure the exact same contrivances with only slightly different set-ups. While A. O. Scott from the New York Times is quick to point out all the ways (500) Days hews to the generic conventions of a romantic comedy, he also concedes that the Memento-type plot structure "restores a measure of the suspense that is usually missing from the romantic-comedy genre, which relies on climactic chases to the airport and ridiculously contrived choices between rival mates." Our critic Doris Toumarkine suspects that "(500) Days should emerge a summer winner. The little film that could and does is smart, funny, real, surprising, and hits the bull's-eye on all production counts." While almost everything about this film is positive, up until the point some people declare it treacly and syrupy sweet, I'm curious as to how, and when, this film will really catch on. Fox Searchlight would certainly like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine or Garden State-type success. Unlike with films that release wide, Searchlight will have the opportunity to tweak their marketing campaign over the coming weeks to make sure this film sparks. Each of those three films slowly increased the theatres in their release over a period of eight weeks, so it may be until the end of summer before (500) Days of Summer can be evaluated on the indie success scale.

I will be on vacation next week, so I'll see you back on July 27th.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

'Live Music,' short film created through Facebook contest, to play before 'Planet 51'

By Sarah Sluis

In the entertainment world, people are all too willing to work for free. Browse through Craigslist and you'll see dozens of listings for "unpaid interns" in the entertainment industry--some from reputable provenance, Livemusic_sml some not. Contests, like internships, are proving grounds, places where you give away your work with the hope it will be recognized as the kind you should be paid for. Too often, people end up feeling disappointed and burned.

For at least 51 people, the proving time has come. They will have the chance to see their names attached to "Live Music," a short film about a guitar and violin working through their differences and falling in love. The six-minute animated film was created collaboratively, with each person filling in parts of animation from a list of shots. Coordinated through a Facebook page, the Mass Animation contest was sponsored by Intel for $1 million, and a portion of that went to the winners, who received $500 each. What was originally planned as an advertising tie-in for an Intel processor has turned into something else. Now, the film itself has won a prize: distribution. Sony Pictures Animation plans to show the short film before their November 20th release Planet 51. It's not the first time this has happened, either. A small independent film that just released, Somers Town, was originally planned as a short film to promote EuroStar's Paris-to-London train line.

Although animation is a male-dominated industry, 11 of the 51 winners were women (21%). While still short of parity, the greater percentage of female winners indicates that the industry is missing out on talented female animators. The "blind" process of animating from behind a computer screen reminded me of how women suddenly found more spots in orchestras once interviews were conducted behind a screen to hide the player's identity.

In the New York Times article profiling the project, the Facebook employee who helped organize the project, Matt Jacobson, suggests that this model could be used to create a feature film. It's certainly possible. Shows like "The Simpsons" use overseas animators to keep within their budgets, and because animation can be produced in piecemeal, it's particularly easy to be "crowdsourced," to use one of those globalization buzzwords (Another statistic: 17 of the 51 winners were from outside the U.S.)

Because filmmaking is so expensive, perhaps more projects will use this decentralized method as a way to cut costs. Could this be done with a live-action film, perhaps one with a global, Babel-like plot? Or perhaps the greater influence here is the big-budget advertisers who are turning to more integrated methods of advertising to reach viewers. Would you rather buy $1 million in ads people will fast forward through with their DVR, or a six-minute film that will be shown to millions in theatres? Interestingly, this project was created as a way to reach animators and encourage them to buy the fast, Core i7 processor, so it doesn't appear as if Intel is showing up in terms of product placement. For this project at least, it's the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Twitter is just another form of word-of-mouth advertising, not a harbinger of doom

By Sarah Sluis

So last weekend, Bruno did big business on Friday, then dropped dramatically through the weekend. Who's to blame? According to some, Twitter.

Twitter_logo An article posted in The Wrap (on Thursday, before the movie released) posited that the new communication tool could spread word-of-mouth reviews even faster, making disappointing films drop before the weekend is through, instead of on their second weekend. Time seconded the article, which was in turn followed by a backlash on Movie Marketing Madness, which cited an even more vehement backlash on The Hot Blog.

The gist is that information is disseminated faster and faster (through Twitter), making movies that are bombs more easily recognizable. However, Bruno was something of a "fan" film, the kind that normally has outsized grosses on Friday because people want to be the first to see it. Couldn't that be the reason? I noted on Monday that most of the other comedies in the top ten (The Proposal, The Hangover) barely dropped at all, indicating that people just weren't that interested in seeing Bruno. Perhaps they felt they had already had their fill of Bruno from all of his talk show appearances, done in character.

Also, Twitter isn't new. It's the same idea as AOL Instant Messenger away messages, which people use to broadcast their whereabouts, and Facebook status updates. The only difference is, it's more visible, which has made it the darling of journalists. Feelings about the Iraq election, for example, could be viewed not Harry potter twitter only by someone's friends, but the whole world. You can do a Twitter search for "Harry Potter," for example (one of the "hot trending" topics right now) and instantly have access to the vox populi. The "man on the street" is replaced by "Je_taime_Erik: has seen Harry Potter 6 and is impressed." The sheer volume of Harry Potter-related tweets shows the excitement over the film. Even when people grumble about authenticity, they're not giving a negative review, but voicing an opinion that can make people even more eager to see the film, so they can weigh in as well. Bruno, apparently, did not inspire that level of engagement. Negative or positive

tweets don't matter nearly as much as volume. The question to ask is, "Is this the kind of film that people will talk (or tweet) about before and after?

People love talking about films they loved (or hated), and Twitter is

just another place to do that. There's something to be said for the

amount of people on my Facebook (which I prefer over Twitter) who have

their status updates set to "Going tonight Harry Potter" or "[insert comment

about] Harry Potter." It makes the film more of a must-see. Yes,

this happens more quickly than if you were to wait until the next time

you have coffee with your friend or speak to him/her on the telephone.

In focusing on people's impressions of movies after they see them, these journalists often overlook forward-looking statements like "JaRaized: On our way to watch Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince! Wheeeeeee!" and people saying things like "Going to tonight with [insert friend]" or ""Who wants to go see Harry Potter with me?" Looking at random people's plans can help studios (and journalists) gauge interest and also measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. People's tweets do serve as word-of-mouth advertising, and can even recruit audience members. When Sugahill tweeted "I dont have anyone to go see Harry potter with :(", and Etsears tweeted "...Also, I need someone to see Harry Potter with me. Anyone?" I bet it was only a matter of time before these Twitter users found a friend to join them.

I see Twitter as more of a reflection of people's interest in a film, as well as a visible, written version of "word-of-mouth." According to this Nielsen survey, word-of-mouth and online are among the top four ways people hear about a film, but I think it's no coincidence that studio advertising from television and in-theatre are the other big two. Personally, as an 18-34 female speaking, I think people like to see the trailer and commercials for a movie as well as some kind of social reinforcement, whether it's a recommendation from a friend or a pre-release conversation along the lines of "I really want to see this movie!" Twitter is certainly part of that, but it doesn't have the power to make a film bomb over one day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'Food, Inc.' finds an unlikely corporate sponsor, 'Bruno' receives tyke-friendly edit

By Sarah Sluis

Could you imagine if Fast Food Nation were sponsored by a fast food chain? Chipotle seems to be doing just such a thing, giving out flyers for free screenings of Food, Inc., a documentary that explores the Food inc poster negative effects of factory farming and insufficient laws governing our food supply. While I love my barbacoa burritos from Chipotle, I never would have linked my consumption of them to the sustainable eating practices recommended in Food, Inc. Of course, that's the point. Chipotle wants to position itself as the "good" fast casual option against the "bad" fast food shown in the film, such as Burger King. I blogged about the thought-provoking film in June, and I find it even more interesting that its activist message has found a corporate sponsor.

Food, Inc. stands apart for its practical, rather than radical, approach to changing the food we eat. The documentary makes a point to single out companies that aren't standing alone, but changing factory farming by throwing themselves into the mainstream. Stonyfield Farms, for example, was bought by the Dannon corporation, and is sold in Walmart stores. The CEO defends the company's decision, saying that if more yogurt is organic, fewer pesticides and chemicals will be circulating in the environment. Food, Inc. suggests that food companies (i.e. Tyson) are so gargantuan,

they simply can't change, but most acquire upstarts and, perhaps,

slowly incorporate more sustainable, healthy methods of farming and

processing. McDonald's owned Chipotle until 2006, when it sold off all of its non-McDonald's food chains. So even McDonald's, much reviled for some of its corporate practices, allowed another company to experiment with organics and environmentally sustainable products, which is consistent with Food, Inc.'s message. Perhaps in the future, we'll see more corporations "endorse" documentaries--a practice that, when done properly, I'm sure will have mutually beneficial results. Maybe an anti-Sea World company will want to make a play for The Cove?

Across the pond, Universal is trying a different distribution strategy for Bruno, which had less-than-spectacular results in its first weekend. After grossing just $8.1 million (U.S. $) its opening weekend, Bruno Universal submitted a 15-and-over version of the movie to the British Board of Film Classification. English-speaking countries like the U.K. and Australia posted the highest grosses for Borat, so Universal clearly wants to fully tap this market. With a more inclusive rating, Universal hopes to be able to draw in younger viewers, who apparently have been "turned away" at ticket booths. Considering that the BBC airs youth-oriented programs like "Skins" that make our teen soaps look G-rated, I'm sure teens are annoyed and even turning to illegal downloads to see the film. Importantly, this will be a rare chance to see the difference ratings make on the bottom line. You constantly hear directors complaining about studios making them cut

to get a specific rating, so this will provide a nice experiment to see

how much truth there is to the conventional wisdom.

Monday, July 13, 2009

'Bruno' gets his 15 minutes (and million) on Friday

By Sarah Sluis

Sacha Baron Cohen's comic persona Bruno did big business on Friday, but dipped through the weekend, Bruno Sacha Baron Cohen sparking concerns that Cohen's brand of shock comedy has run its course. After Friday's $14.4 million debut, Bruno dipped 39% on Saturday, taking in just $8.8 million, and another 18% on Sunday ($7.2 million). While it brought in $30.4 million, $4 million more than Borat, it opened in three times as many theatres, making its per-screen average one-third of Borat's. Critics have generally liked the film, giving it a 69% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that's far short of Borat's 91% rating. Part of the appeal of Baron Cohen's characters has been the guerrilla-style humor. With that element of surprise already played out in Borat, the humor of Bruno grows old more quickly. I enjoyed Bruno, but it was much more evident that the events were staged. While Borat had that "Blair Witch Project" sense of authenticity on its side, Bruno may suffer the same fate as Blair Witch Project 2. Needless to say, Baron Cohen is a talented comedian and there is a chance its second-weekend grosses could show only a slight dip.

I Love You, Beth Cooper, the other new release of the week, opened to $5 million at the #7 spot. With lackluster reviews and little marketing support, it appears this movie will fade fast. While Beth Cooper didn't open big, the other comedies in the top ten held strong, even with a comedy at #1, which might be another sign of Bruno's limited appeal. The Proposal dropped just 18% to bring in $10.5 million, and The Hangover fell 11.9% for a $9.9 million weekend gross.

Opening in just New York and Los Angeles, Humpday made a solid debut of $14,500 per screen. The Hurt Locker, which added 51 locations to up its release to 60, increased 324% from last week and crossedHumpday hookah the $1 million mark. Both of these films have received extra attention for having females at the helm of a bromance and a war film, respectively. In an interview with The New York Times, The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow revealed to the reporter that "after she made The Loveless, a postmodern motorcycle movie in which she stretched narrative to the limit, she started receiving scripts for high school comedies, which she quickly realized was considered a suitable subject for her gender." In the indie world, however, it appears easier for these females to work outside of these genre ghettos, to box-office success.

This Wednesday, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will open. According to, the film has already sold out 350 screenings, including 216 midnight sellouts, making this film one to watch.

Friday, July 10, 2009

'Bruno' promises a gay time at weekend box office

By Sarah Sluis

The most-buzzed release this weekend is Br�no (2,755 theatres), Sacha Baron Cohen's gay Austrian fashionista creation. The plot and the brand of humor differ little from 2006's Borat, and while Bruno lip gloss "pre-premiere buzz sawed on so long the project felt like a reality show in rerun," according to our critic Rex Roberts, I doubt that will deter fans craving another round of Cohen's humor. Br�no takes the comedy further in the NC-17 direction than 2006's Borat, ensuring there's still plenty of shocking moments saved for the big screen. However, this could in fact be why Br�no will ultimately fail to charm as much as Borat. "[Cohen] is a man who clearly delights in making himself the target of opprobrium, humiliation, and even violence," notes Slate critic Dana Stevens. "Borat, for all his backwardness and provincial racism...elicited the audience's sympathy. There was something sweet about

his eagerness to connect, however inappropriately, to everyone he met

on his travels," while "the humor of Br�no is arguably crueler and more misanthropic." Cohen's film is my pick for the #1 release of the weekend. However, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosuars, which has little overlap with the R-rated comedy, along with an additional 1,300 screens in its release, could overtake the Austrian. Br�no, like its predecessor Borat, is less concerned about a record-breaking opening weekend, and more interested in selling out houses this week, then having those viewers spread the news for following weekends.

The small teen romantic comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper will offer a PG-13 alternative to young I love you beth cooper hayden audiences in 1,858 theatres. The premise sounds endearingly sweet. A high school nerd declares his love for the popular girl (Hayden Panettiere) during his graduation speech. Intrigued, they spend the night after graduation together, running into a series of madcap situations and finding out more about each other. Unfortunately, reviews have been calling the movie unfunny, and more than one noted its inferiority to the considerably more amusing Superbad. Our critic Stephen Farber notes that "most of the scenes are stock teen crises that we've seen many times before: underage kids trying to buy beer, getting into a car wreck, fighting off vicious bullies." Still, most teens haven't spent decades watching these kinds of movies, so perhaps they'll turn out.

Humpday bed Humpday, which will release in NYC and LA today, is the most talked-about specialty film releasing this week. Two straight guys find themselves making a pact to create a porno together, and follow through. FJI's Ethan Alter was more than pleased with the result, noting that "mumblecore comes of age with this smartly written and well-acted, grown-up version of a "bromantic" comedy." Those that have previously steered clear of the mumblecore genre might find a film they can not just tolerate, but enjoy.

On Monday, we'll see just how many viewers Br�no managed to offend, and who ended up turning out for I Love You, Beth Cooper (Br�no sellouts?).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tobey Maguire focuses on 'The Details'

By Sarah Sluis

Tobey Maguire will star opposite Elizabeth Banks in The Details, a dark comedy. Filming will start later this summer in Seattle, before Maguire goes off to shoot Spider-man 4. Jacob Estes, the writer Tobeymaguire and director, previously took on the dual role in 2004's Mean Creek, which took place one state south, in Oregon. It earned a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has some thematic similarities to the described plot of The Details.

In Mean Creek, a bully and his friends decide to punish a boy by humiliating him out in the Oregon wilderness, but the actions escalate out of their control and the stakes suddenly become life-or-death. In The Details, Maguire and Banks will play a couple bickering about infidelity and the strength of their marriage, and who must deal with the added annoyance of pesty raccoons destroying their backyard. They have a disagreement over how to get rid of the animals, which (like in Mean Creek) spins out of control and results in death (apparently by bow-and-arrow). Laura Linney will play an "eccentric" neighbor, and Ray Liotta, Anna Friel (Land of the Lost), and Dennis Haybert ("24," "The Unit") are also on the cast list. While Mean Creek was more serious, this is being billed as a "dark indie comedy"

Over the past year, Elizabeth Banks was in one release right Elizabeth-banksafter the other (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, W., Role Models, The Uninvited), which really highlighted her versatility (or just her willingness to pick up anything and everything). Tobey Maguire is stepping into the role previously held by James McAvoy, who left due to scheduling problems. With its high-profile stars, and prolific producer Mark Gordon (who was nominated for an Oscar on Saving Private Ryan), The Details certainly has the potential to take on an awards-season sheen. Or, perhaps, be another War of the Roses.

Monday, July 6, 2009

'Ice Age 3' almost even with 'Transformers 2'

By Sarah Sluis

Both Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen posted estimated $42.5 million grosses for the Fourth of July Weekend on Sunday, but as final data trickles Ice age 3 alternate in, it appears that Transformers 2 came in at about $42.4 million, and Ice Age 3 slightly under $42 million. Even though Transformers fell 61% from its opening weekend, its twelve-day gross puts it behind only The Dark Knight for that time frame. When you start that high, even steep declines don't dent the gross. Audiences love CGI spectacles, even if there isn't much of a story to go along with them. Ice Age 3's five-day total of $65 million is a promising debut against the tough competition from Transformers 2. Because it's animated and released during the kid audience-friendly summer break, it should have strong weekends, and weekdays, to come.

Johnny Depp as John Dillinger drew in a healthy audience this holiday weekend. Public Enemies Public enemies romanceearned $26.1 million, and $41 million over five days. The number is consistent with director Michael Mann's previous film, Miami Vice, but the strategic decision to release it over the holiday brought its five-day total to $41 million, the same level as Vice's two-week total.

Among specialty releases, second-week release The Hurt Locker and fourth-week release Moon have picked up the most speed. The Hurt Locker posted the highest per-screen average this weekend, $14,000, even beating Transformers 2 and Ice Age 3. It went from four theatres to nine, bringing its cumulative gross to $365,000. Lower down on the list, sci-fi entry Moon increased 140% from last week, doubling the theatres in its release to 47. With a four-week total of $963,000, it should cross $1 million this week.

This weekend, it's back to the comedies. The Hangover is still in the top ten, and over the Fourth of July weekend it dropped just 38%, crossing the $200 million mark, but its fortunes could change. The highly anticipated Sacha Baron Cohen movie Bruno opens, along with Chris Columbus-directed high school romantic comedy I Love You Beth Cooper.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

'Ice Age 3' breaking up 'Transformers,' and 'Asteroids' in our future

By Sarah Sluis

First, a note on yesterday's box-office returns. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs debuted with $14 million, followed by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's $10 million, then Public Enemies' $8 million. If these results hold, it looks like Transformers 2 will be unseated in its second week.

Atari2 One of the producers on the Transformers franchise, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, has another game adaptation on his list: Asteroids. The 1979 Atari game (which you can play online here) has no plot and no backstory. It's just shooting asteroids before they shoot you. Since many video games with complicated backstories fail to thrive at the box office, perhaps creating a story out of such a bare-bones premise could actually work. After all, Hasbro has been licensing versions of its games like Monopoly, Battleship, and Stretch Armstrong. The property even ignited a bidding war, with four studios vying for rights to the work. Matt Lopez, who has recently penned high-profile projects like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Race to Witch Mountain, and Bedtime Stories, is in charge of the first draft.

Although the game Asteroids debuted in 1979, about five years before the Transformers television show, people played the game for years afterwards. Later-model consoles, arcades, and early computers (where I first played an Asteroids-type game) carried versions of Asteroids. People from teens to 40-somethings have probably had some direct exposure to the game, making this picture a potential "four-quadrant" film, the term marketers love. What direction will they take? The 1984 movie The Last Starfighter featured a boy good at an Asteroids-type game who is recruited by a stranger from another galaxy to save its world from invading aliens. That kind of plot is every kid's fantasy, though I'm not sure it's the direction the studio will go. In the Transformers franchise, the machines are always "real," it's just that their reality isn't universally acknowledged. You don't have to go to another world for it to become real. Universal has a great property on its hands--hopefully it will swim, not sink, in development.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

'Ice Age 3' and 'Public Enemies' battle with 'Transformers'

By Sarah Sluis

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Public Enemies will be opening in some rough waters. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has made the biggest splash of the year, earning some $200 Ice age 3 million in its first five days. Young teens turned out in force for the CGI action, but critics panned the movie, making it unlikely to have the legs of a film like The Dark Knight. This weekend, everyone's wondering how much Transformers will drop off. A 50% plus drop for Transformers could be enough for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs to come in at number one.

The first two Ice Age films opened at $46 and $68 million, though in the less lucrative--and competitive--spring break time slots. It seems reasonable that Ice Age 3 should come in around its second film total, especially given the added holiday weekend boost. Also adding to the film's potential profitability are over 1,000 3D screens. However, it's still won't be playing on as many screens as Transformers 2. Ice Age 3 will open on 3,993 screens today, and add another 100 on Friday, but that's still less than Transformers' current 4,224 screens.

Public Enemies is my pick for the #3 spot. Michael Mann's last film, Miami Vice, opened in the heat of the summertime at $25 million (and #1). The film's R rating and violence will subtract some viewers during this family-friendly weekend, making me believe it will play third. Plus, Mann is not known as a big "opener" of films, but as someone who can create a film that will play for multiple weekends.

Like most critics who saw Transformers, I can't recommend it. Not even a jumbo bag of buttery popcorn can redeem its awfulness. Both Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Public Enemies are Public enemies receiving a warmer reception than Transformers 2. For Ice Age 3, the compliments are rather tepid. Our Michael Rechtshaffen points out that "IA3 will draw families looking to fill the gap between Up and the July 24 arrival of Disney's G-Force, " but can't really recommend anything else about it. Likewise, The New York Times' A.O. Scott predicts that "families who have recovered from the trauma of the Transformers sequel are unlikely to avoid this tired, loud little sequel over the coming holiday weekend," but complains at length about the premise, which involves dinosaurs living underground, below the ice.

As for Public Enemies, critics have praised its lush costuming, use of HD cameras, and the performances of Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard. There's a sense that some soul is missing, that Mann might hold you at a distance, from comments like "Public Enemies re-creates clothes, but doesn't fully fashion the man who wore them" from Entertainment Weekly, and NY Times' Manohla Dargis' multiple mentions of "ambivalence" and closing pronouncement that "If [Mann] doesn't fully succeed, it's because he knows that the gangster's rakish smile is at once a fiction of cinema and one of its great, irresistible lies."

On Monday, we'll see how the five days of Ice Age 3 and Public Enemies fared against the box-office behemoth Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.